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Published: 2012-02-16 00:00:00

A boat capsizing in heavy seas at Manu Bay on the Waikato’s wild west coast is a classic example of how even the most experienced pleasure craft skippers can get caught out by rough conditions, says Waikato Regional Council.

But luckily the three people aboard the vessel “Hook It” were all wearing lifejackets and survived their ordeal relatively unscathed despite being thrown overboard when coming into the Manu Bay boat ramp near Raglan.

The council investigated the 3 January incident to see whether there had been a breach of section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act (MTA) covering dangerous operation of a vessel.

However, the precautions and safety measures taken by the veteran skipper George Skinner, a 68-year-old Coastguard member from Ngaruawahia, helped ensure he didn’t face a fine or prosecution.

Sea conditions on the morning of the accident were rougher than usual. However, a number of other craft had gone out without incident.

Mr Skinner had launched his Fryam 4.4 metre aluminium craft with a 50 horsepower motor, accompanied by his son and a friend. All three wore lifejackets.

They went to a spot off Whale Bay but decided to return after 20 minutes due to the conditions.

Mr Skinner took his usual route back to the Manu Bay ramp, taking note of the wave patterns to come in behind the seventh wave which he’d calculated was the largest. However, the boat was struck from behind and flipped by a breaking wave about 200-300 metres out from the ramp.

One of Mr Skinner’s passengers made it to shore by himself, while Mr Skinner and his son were helped to shore by surfers who paddled out on their boards.

The boat, which was recovered, had motor damage, minor panel damage and a broken windscreen. However, fishing gear and personal effects were lost.

A council investigation concluded no navigation safety bylaws were breached and no fine or prosecution was warranted, although the council noted the need for skippers of smaller vessels to be particularly careful when operating in rougher seas.

“In this case, Mr Skinner is to be congratulated for ensuring he and his passengers were wearing lifejackets and for trying to return to shore promptly when it became clear the conditions were too rough for him to continue fishing,” said the council’s navigation safety programme manager Nicole Botherway.

“It’s likely the fact the three men were all wearing lifejackets has helped prevent this incident being the tragedy it could have become.

“Mr Skinner is an experienced skipper but the capsizing shows how easily people can be caught out in rough seas, particularly in small boats.

“We urge all boaties to make sure they don’t head out in conditions unsuitable for their craft and that they take all recommended safety precautions, especially the wearing of lifejackets.”

Mrs Botherway said the courts had determined that an offence against section 65 of the MTA involved creating any danger or risk to others that was unnecessary or avoidable, and something more than the danger inherent in the activity itself.

“Putting out in conditions that are too rough for your vessel, thereby endangering others, is therefore generally against the law.”