A recent manslaughter conviction in New Zealand is a sombre reminder that skippers are responsible for the safety of everyone on board.

The case relates to a 2015 incident; two men were returning from a fishing trip when their boat flipped attempting to cross an ocean bar. Neither man wore a lifejacket and one drowned, leading to charges against the master of the vessel.

Safety duties were introduced in Victorian marine safety law in 2012 to make it clear that masters of recreational vessels have overarching responsibility for safety.

Masters must take reasonable care for their own safety and take reasonable care for the safety of people who may be affected by their acts or omissions.

Masters also have a duty not to wilfully/recklessly place the safety of another person who is on board or in the immediate vicinity of the vessel at risk. A contravention of these safety duties is punishable by a fine of up to $9,514 for each offence.

In general, ensuring good safety practices such as those outlined below will go a long way to demonstrating that a master has taken ‘reasonable care’.

Under Victorian law, a master – who includes any person who has command or charge over the vessel – must also hold a current marine licence and ensure that all the required items of safety and fire-fighting equipment are readily accessible and kept in good working order and that every person on board the vessel is wearing the lifejackets required by law.

Masters of motorised vessels that are 4.8 metres or less must carry a lifejacket for each person on board.

Do you know how to meet your safety duties?

The essence of the NZ outcome is that legally, ‘You’re the Skipper, you’re responsible’.

Maritime Safety Victoria experts advise that there are several steps to take that are relevant to the NZ case to help avoid a similar tragedy.

  • Wear a lifejacket when crossing a bar – or in any other situation where there is an increased risk that you may enter the water.  On a small vessel – realise that this is anytime that you are underway, but could also include other times such as when the wind is strong, when boating at night or with a minor.
  • Find out from locals about the conditions and best times of day to cross the bar and when high and low tides will occur.
  • Know the capabilities of your vessel and do not operate in conditions that are likely to capsize or swamp the vessel.
  • Check the weather forecast with the Bureau of Meteorology before every trip and be aware of how to receive updates while on the water.
  • Kill switches should be used when fitted.  They will prevent a powered vessel from motoring away from you, or coming back to run over you.

Read more at transportsafety.vic.gov.au/msv/safety-duties

How will you raise the alarm