The jet boat involved in this accident | TAIC photo
The jet boat involved in this accident | TAIC photo
Fatal jet boat accident, Hollyford River, Southland, 18 March 2019
Occurrence Date
Report Publication Date
What happened

On 18 March 2019 between 1930 and 2030, a recreational jet boat with four people on board was proceeding upstream on the Hollyford River from McKerrow Island Hut to Lake Alabaster in Southland.

Although the exact time of the accident is unknown, the light was starting to fade as the driver negotiated a left-hand bend at the same place where a gravel bar1 split the river into two channels. Travelling at a speed of 35-50 kilometres per hour, the driver steered the boat toward the northern channel, which was shallower than the southern channel.

As the boat approached the channel its starboard quarter2 hit a rock. The driver lost control and the boat landed on the gravel bar. One passenger suffered a fatal injury as a result of the accident. Two other passengers suffered injuries that required hospitalisation.

Why it happened

The jet boat was operating in flat light conditions3, which made it difficult for the driver to identify features such as rocks and obstacles in the water. In addition, the jet boat’s speed in these conditions likely increased the likelihood of an accident occurring and the severity of the consequences.

The driver’s blood alcohol concentration was about three times the legal blood alcohol limit4 in New Zealand for driving a car on the road. The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (Commission) found that it was virtually certain that the consumption of alcohol impaired the driver’s ability to make good decisions and to operate the jet boat safely.

What we can learn

Occurrence data is essential for effective safety management. The limited data available on alcohol and drug use in the recreational maritime sector reduces the ability of the sector to understand the impacts of alcohol and drugs and implement effective controls. Therefore, the Commission recommends that Maritime New Zealand continue to develop its fatal accident database to improve the quality of the data.

It is important that safety actions are taken on the Commission’s recommendations without delay to help prevent similar accidents or incidents occurring in the future. One of the Commission’s previous recommendations to introduce appropriate legislation or rules to prohibit people in safety-critical roles being impaired by alcohol or drugs remained open at the time of, and was directly related to the circumstances of, this accident. Implementing safety actions to address this recommendation may have avoided this accident occurring.

The driver or skipper of a recreational watercraft has a responsibility to ensure the safety of all persons on board. When navigating rivers where operating conditions can change rapidly it is essential, for the safety of all those on board, that all factors are taken into consideration and that a comprehensive plan is properly developed before setting out on passage.

The consumption of alcohol can impair a person’s performance significantly. It can adversely affect their risk perception, reaction time and co-ordination. Alcohol was a contributory factor in this accident, and this emphasises the increased risk of attempting to operate a boat under its influence.

Who may benefit

Recreational boat users, commercial operators and Maritime New Zealand and other regulators will all benefit from the lessons learned, and the addressing of recommendations identified in this report.
Hollyford River, Fiordland National Park (-44.550555,168.101666) [may be approximate]