The Dolphin Seeker at the incident site
The Dolphin Seeker at the incident site (diver in water) [Photo: Fullers]
Dolphin Seeker, grounding, 27 October 2018
Occurrence Date
Report Publication Date
During the afternoon of 27 October 2018, the restricted-limits passenger catamaran Dolphin Seeker was on its second dolphin-watching tourist trip of the day in the Bay of Islands, with six crew and 47 passengers on board.

The skipper had located a pod of dolphins near the Brampton Bank area and was manoeuvring the Dolphin Seeker to stay with the pod, at the same time as giving a commentary over the public address system, when the vessel ran aground on rocks at slow speed.

Nobody was injured, but the vessel sustained significant damage to both propellers and minor damage to its hull. The passengers were transferred to another company vessel. The Dolphin Seeker was re-floated on the rising tide and towed back to its berth.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (Commission) found that the grounding occurred because the skipper did not notice that the vessel had moved into shallow waters while focusing on giving a passenger commentary at the same time as manoeuvring the vessel to maintain proximity to the pod of dolphins.

The Commission also found that the skipper was effectively working alone in a high-risk situation. There were few or no defences in place to prevent the one-person errors that resulted in the grounding, such as fully utilising the features of the vessel’s electronic navigation equipment.

The Commission identified a safety issue that the operator’s safety management system did not fully address the risk of vessel groundings and collisions where its skippers were in effect working alone in the wheelhouse.

The operator took safety actions to address this safety issue. Therefore no new recommendations were required.

A key lesson arising from this inquiry is that when skippers are operating vessels alone in high-risk situations, there should be adequate measures in place to minimise the risk of one-person errors resulting in maritime accidents and incidents.
Brampton Reef, Oneroa (-35.244764,174.097632) [may be approximate]