photo of Manukau Harbour entrance including the bar
Manukau Harbour entrance including the bar. Photo (c) Maxim Voronin
Recreational vessel, capsize and sinking with three fatalities, Manukau Harbour entrance, 16 October 2021
Occurrence Date
Report Publication Date
What happened
On 16 October 2021, four people on board a recreational power boat spent the afternoon fishing just outside the Manukau Harbour. As they returned, the skipper steered the boat across the sandbar at the harbour entrance. A set of breaking waves, estimated to have been over 2 metres in height, overwhelmed the boat, causing it to capsize and sink. The boat’s occupants were in the water until rescue services arrived. Only one person survived.

Why it happened
The vessel entered an area of steep, breaking waves and, for reasons that could not be determined, the engine stopped. The vessel turned side-on to the waves and was swamped and then capsized.

Had everybody on board been wearing properly fitted personal flotation devices, appropriate for the conditions, it is likely that they would have survived until rescue responders arrived.

A lack of food, exertion and the consumption of alcohol likely reduced the participants’ survival time in the water.

What we can learn
Emergency preparedness is a fundamental part of planning a boating expedition. A responsible skipper should be aware of their vessel’s capabilities and ensure that it is well equipped to give occupants the best chances of survival should something go wrong. Part of this is understanding what emergency services are available in the area and how long it may take for rescue units to arrive on the scene.

Marine radio is a vital tool and one of the best vehicles for indicating distress to other vessels nearby. Everybody within range of and listening to the same Very High Frequency channel will receive the call for help. Pyrotechnic distress signals such as flares and smoke markers can also alert people on board nearby vessels that help is required. A mobile phone is a good back-up, but its calls are private until emergency services can verify its position and relay the call for help.

No matter whether a boating expedition is a private recreational activity or a commercial enterprise, the skipper should brief the passengers on how to call for help to ensure everyone has the best chance of surviving until rescued.

Who may benefit
Recreational boat users, commercial maritime operators, regional councils and maritime training facilities may all benefit from the findings and recommendations in this report.
Manukau Bar (-37.071950,174.493270) [may be approximate]