On a estuary beach sits the salvaged hull and main deck of the fishing vessel wreck. Almost all superstructure is missing.
The salvaged remains of the Enchanter. [TAIC photo]
Charter fishing vessel Enchanter, Capsize, North Cape, New Zealand, 20 March 2022
Occurrence Date
Report Publication Date
What happened
The charter fishing vessel Enchanter was on a five-day fishing trip from Mangōnui in Northland to the Three Kings Islands with eight passengers and two crew on board. On 20 March 2022, it was heading back from the Three Kings Islands towards Murimotu Island off North Cape, where the skipper intended to anchor for the night.

At about 1950 the vessel was broadly east of Murimotu Island when it was struck on its port side by a large steep wave, rapidly rolling the vessel onto its side. The superstructure comprising the main saloon and the flybridge separated from the hull and the Enchanter capsized.

The New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre (the RCC) was alerted to the accident by the crew activating their Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and initiated a search and rescue response.

Only five of the ten people survived the accident. The survivors were retrieved from the upturned hull and other floating debris by the first rescue helicopter to arrive at the scene. The bodies of the remaining five people were recovered after an almost two-day search and rescue operation involving multiple aircraft and surface vessels.

Why it happened
The Enchanter should easily have coped with the sea conditions off North Cape at the time of the accident. However, it is about as likely as not the vessel had strayed into shallower water off Murimotu Island, an area that is prone to occasional, naturally occurring, larger waves peaking as they entered the shallowing water.

When the Enchanter rapidly rolled onto its side, the force of the water exceeded the design parameters of the vessel’s superstructure. This caused the superstructure to separate from the hull, resulting in the Enchanter fully capsizing.

Due to the suddenness of the capsize none of the people were wearing or had access to life jackets, and the life rafts likely did not automatically deploy, which left those in the water with no or limited means of flotation.

None of the four lifebuoys on board had effective retroreflective tape and only two had a strobe light attached. Add to this the absence of life jackets with their strobe lights and retroreflective markings, it would have been difficult to detect the missing people in the water at night.

There was a significant delay in the search for the five missing people while fuel for the rescue helicopters was sourced. Three of the missing people were alive in the water when last seen by the survivors but were later found deceased.

Although we cannot determine with any certainty whether it would have changed the outcome in this particular situation, the chances of survival after an accident are greater if search and rescue operations are conducted promptly.

What we can learn
For any forecast or actual sea conditions, mariners should at any time expect to encounter occasional waves up to twice the average size.

Mariners should, if possible, avoid navigating in shallow water in adverse wave conditions. If shallow water cannot be avoided, they should be particularly vigilant and expect waves much larger and steeper than those expected in deeper water.

It is important that passengers either practise putting on a life jacket or are given a demonstration of how to do so during a safety briefing, rather than having to work this out under the pressure of an emergency.

Safety will be better served if life jackets are distributed in several places around a vessel where they will be more accessible in a sudden emergency.

Wearing an inflatable life jacket or similar buoyancy aid will enhance the safety of people when fishing from open decks in open and exposed waters.

There is safety benefit in wearing a personal locator beacon as a backup to the EPIRBs required on commercial vessels, in case the circumstances of an accident prevent the use of the latter.

Fitting an Automatic Identification System (AIS) or equivalent tracking device to a vessel will significantly improve the likelihood of being found and reduce the time for being rescued, particularly if the primary life-saving equipment fails or cannot be activated.

Who may benefit
All mariners, maritime regulatory agencies, and agencies and operators involved in search and rescue operations.

North Cape (-34.414400,173.058900) [may be approximate]