Accident: n 1. an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally. 2. something that happens by chance or without apparent cause.

Special thanks to the Concise Oxford Dictionary for enlightening us as to the meaning of a word that is so often misused, but which has immense relevance to our great Australian boating lifestyle.

Invariably, when Club Marine claims folk hear of incidents involving damage to boats and occupants – or worse – on the water, the ‘A word’ is used. People say they “accidentally” ran into another boat, or their boat ran aground “by accident”. They “accidentally” fell overboard, or the fuel fire was the result of an “accident”. It’s as though – in many cases, at least – safety at sea is purely a matter of fate and luck and that our own actions play little or no part in the outcome. In other words, it’s not our fault. Which, of course, is nonsense.

Anytime we head out on the water, it’s our actions and reactions that overwhelmingly determine whether we have a good time or not. Other influences come into play as well, but it is our own actions that have the most impact in the end.

Just lately we’ve seen a surge in the number of collisions, both between boats and also involving other objects, such as channel markers, beacons and jetties. This is supported by our own recent claims experience, which suggests we all need to take more care when out on the water. Too often, we’re hearing that the other boat “just came out of nowhere”, or “I didn’t see the pylon until I was right on it”. And this brings into play another aspect of boating that needs more consideration.

It is always the skipper’s duty of care to look out for the safety of their boat and occupants, as well as those around them. And this is at the heart of the matter. Whether you’re at the helm of a humble 4-metre tinnie or a $million-plus luxury cruiser or yacht, it’s your responsibility to ensure the safety of those aboard, as well as other vessels in the vicinity. It is an aspect of boating that, from our experience at least, seems to have been overlooked in recent times.

A skipper’s duty of care is one of the most profound and fundamental principles of nautical lore. And for good reason. It is based on the concept that the skipper is in charge of the vessel and is ultimately responsible for its safety and that of its occupants. That applies equally to small trailer boats, large luxury craft or massive super tankers. The buck stops with the person at the helm. And in so many cases that we see here, blame for collisions and other incidents can be sheeted home directly to the skipper, even if legal fault may rest elsewhere.

This applies even before you hit the water. Prior to any day out, a skipper should know that their boat is adequately prepared and seaworthy. Particularly if the boat hasn’t been used for any length of time. Batteries need to be checked, fuel tanks flushed and topped up, navigation lights checked, bilge pumps tested and, in the case of sail craft, storm sails should be unpacked and thoroughly checked and all rigging and fittings should be inspected and tested.

And when you’re on the water, you need to remain alert to the conditions around you. You need to be aware of any fixed objects, underwater obstacles and other craft that may pose a threat. You need to ensure that your passengers are wearing suitable attire, are aware of the location of all safety equipment, such as PFDs, flares and fire extinguishers and are briefed about precisely what to do in the event of an emergency. Ultimately, if you take others out on the water, their lives are in your hands. It’s up to you to make sure their trust is well-placed.

In the meantime, our claims staff have asked me to say that they sincerely hope they don’t hear from any of you over the coming holiday season. They’d also like me to wish you all a fantastic, incident-free time on the water this summer.

Safe boating,

Mark Bradley
Publisher and CEO
Club Marine Limited