MAIB urges high-speed tour boat operators to abide by voluntary code of conduct

After last August’s fatal collision on Southampton Water the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has warned operators of high-speed tour boats to take careful note of and to abide by the industry’s voluntary code of conduct.

On August 22nd 2020 tour boat operator Seadogz Rib Charter Ltd sent its rigid inflatable Seadogz on a routine commercial tour. The boat departed Ocean Village Marina at about 09:45 that morning with 11 passengers on board.

After performing a series of high-speed figure-eights around navigational buoys in the harbour, the skipper headed back up the channel in order to tail an outbound ferry, passing back and forth to jump the larger vessel’s wake. While exiting one of these manoeuvres at a speed of about 38 knots, the skipper hit the North-West Netley buoy, a five-tonne steel marker which is about 10ft in diameter and 15ft high.

The skipper apparently had not seen the buoy because he was paying attention to the ferry. The passengers did not alert the skipper because he had previously skirted close to similar obstacles on the water, and they were therefore unaware that he had not seen this particular obstacle.

The bow of the boat was tossed upward upon impact and all on board were thrown violently forward because of the rapid deceleration. All but one person on board were injured Emily Lewis, a 15-year-old passenger who was sitting just forward of the pilot house, was fatally injured.

The boat itself sustained extensive damage. The forward three sections of the buoyancy tubes on Seadogz’s port side were punctured and the bow of its fiberglass hull was severely damaged. Several of the steel framed seatbacks were bent forward by the force of passengers hitting them.

The MAIB noted that few of the safe working practices in the UK’s high-speed ride industry code of practice were being followed on the casualty voyage. In particular:

  • High speed figure-of-eight turns increase the risk of the RIB hooking or spinning-out.
  • The skipper was operating single-handedly at high speed and did not see the navigation buoy, which was directly ahead, for 10 seconds before impact.
  • Crossing the ferry’s wake at high speed increased both the risk of the passengers suffering spinal injuries and of the RIB coming close to a craft or object previously obscured from view by the ferry’s hull, leaving the skipper little time in which to react.

Seadogz Rib Charter Ltd. has ceased operations, but MAIB said that the practices on display during the casualty voyage were not uncommon in the industry.