Christmas is fun but steer boat in direction of safety

By Andrew Goode

With Christmas coming up it is time to warn readers to take care when pursuing recreational activities. 

A recent Court judgment turned my mind to boating in particular.

Some people say the two best days with a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it but I think you can have fun in between as long as you take the necessary precautions.

When my father bought a boat, I was about 18 and that taught me one of life’s lessons, which is – don’t always wait to buy something until you can afford it.  Dad and I went skiing once or twice and after that I had great fun with my friends, although Dad paid the bills.

I bought my first boat when my children were very young, took on a bit of debt, and we have plenty of great memories. 

Over that time I have seen a number of potential accidents including some of my own.  The biscuit (the round donut shape floatable device you tow behind the boat) can be dangerous if you are doing a tight turn on the River Murray with kids on the biscuit, if you haven’t turned tight enough.

The new boat owner heading out in the wrong direction with skiers in tow (I haven’t done that one!) 

My accident happened when I bought a new boat one Christmas.  It had a bit more power than my old boat.  We were at the Coorong near Goolwa and my 14 year old daughter was attempting a dry start from the beach.  

I pushed the throttle down (much tighter than my old one) and off we went, but unfortunately my daughter went head first into the ski and broke off half of a front tooth.  Not good at any time, but particularly on the 23rd December when every dentist is down the beach without their drills (as useless as a lawyer without a dictaphone).

Was I negligent and could my daughter have made a claim against me?  Too late as she is now out of time. 

In a recent New South Wales case the question arose whether a driver of a boat towing a young man who was wake skating was negligent.  In that case the plaintiff, while on his third attempt at a deep water start on the Tweed River in northern New South Wales fell head first into shallow water and suffered C6 Tretraplegia.  That is a very serious spinal injury.

He claimed that the driver was negligent because he drove the boat outside the navigation channel and when the plaintiff fell off the wake skate he struck his head on a shallow sandbar in water which was 1.1 metres deep.

Fortunately for the plaintiff he succeeded.  The judgment did not deal with his damages but they would have been in the millions.  The court determined that on the balance of probabilities he suffered catastrophic injury when he fell wake skating over, or close to a sandbar in shallow water because of the driver’s negligence.

The court found that a reasonable recreational boat driver would have towed the plaintiff within the marked channel.  

We have acted for a number of people involved in serious boating accidents, and when they happen they are usually much worse than a broken tooth.

Make sure you are insured, take care when you are driving, and assume the other boat drivers are reckless and don’t drink and drive.

If you do all of that you should have happy boating (except for the repairs). 

STOCK JOURNAL ARTICLE

Further details: e: agoode@mellorolsson.com.au or ph: (08) 8414 3400

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