Sydney Boat Accident Highlights Safety Issues


2 May 2008 

According to the National Marine Safety Committee, which is responsible for developing national marine safety standards, the tragic incident involving a work boat and a fishing boat on Sydney Harbour in the early hours of Thursday morning (1 May), highlights the need to keep a proper look-out.

“Unfortunately, the majority of boating fatalities in Australia involve a “human  cause”, such as an error of judgment on behalf of the vessel operator,” explained NMSC CEO Maurene Horder.

According to the NMSC’s National Marine Incident Database, 47 people died in Australian waters in 2007, with human factors representing 51% of all contributing factors in these fatalities. Error of judgment made up the largest category, with 16% of all contributing factors, followed by wind/sea state (14%), other human factor (10%) and inexperience (7%).

Ms Horder explained that the recently released report by the NSW Office of Transport Safety Investigations into the tragedy in 2007 on Sydney Harbour involving the cabin cruiser Merinda and the Harbourcat Pam Burridge, found that something as simple as keeping a proper look-out for other craft could have prevented the incident.

“It appears that the failure to keep a proper watch for other boats may again have been one of the contributing factors to Thursday morning’s incident,” she said.

“Australia applies the internationally agreed rules for preventing collisions on the water which clearly state that a proper watch must kept at all times. However, people need to be reminded about that this is not only a legal requirement, it could save their lives.

“We will be raising this issue with the NMSC’s Safe Boating Group when it meets later this month to see whether a national education campaign can be developed to raise awareness of the issue of keeping a proper watch.

“We have implemented a range of national safety campaigns, such as the recent Lifejackets Skippers Take the Lead campaign with cricketer Matthew Hayden which asks skippers to ensure all on board are wearing personal flotation devices.”

Earlier this year, the NMSC sought public comment on a new draft standard for navigation safety equipment to be carried on commercial vessels. Apart from the existing requirements for fitting navigation lights, the new standard introduces new measures affecting vessels operating in sheltered waters, like Sydney Harbour, such as the mandatory fitting of a GPS system and the carriage of radar on passenger vessels more than 12m in length.

However, Ms Horder pointed out that all of these electronic aids are of little help if the skipper is not paying attention to what’s happening on the water.

The NMSC, established by the Council of Australian Governments in 1997, has worked to develop national standards and regulation for both commercial and recreational vessels.

The NMSC has developed the framework for a marine safety system for recreational boats that involves competency standards for boat operators, the Australian Builders Plate that provides information on a boat’s capacity and capability as well as a national standard for boat safety equipment. The ABP is currently being introduced into legislation around Australia.

New standards have also been developed for the National Standard for Commercial Vessels (NSCV). The NSCV updates the Uniform Shipping Laws (USL) Code and provides a national safety standard with performance-based aspects for the regulation of commercial vessels.

The NMSC aims to achieve nationally uniform marine safety practices and is made up of the CEOs of Australia’s marine safety agencies. For further details visit