Hitting the national press last week, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) have published their investigation report into the death of a girl who drowned after her extra-large buoyancy aid became snagged on a sinking speedboat. The report highlights particular safety issues relevant to superyacht operations that crew may wish to make themselves aware of.


The speedboat in question, courtesy of MAIB

In May 2015, an unnamed Fletcher speedboat with one adult and three teenage children on board capsized after encountering a large wave in the UK. Three of the occupants managed to swim clear of the upturned hull but one of the children became trapped. Despite valiant attempts to free her, she was only recovered following attendance of the RNLI lifeboat 25 minutes later. Although medical treatment then started immediately, she never recovered consciousness.

While the actual height of the large wave encountered by the speedboat is unknown, in addition to the speedboat’s course and speed in the prevailing sea conditions, potential contributing factors to the capsize of the speedboat were identified as the fitting of a new propeller to the outboard engine, the small quantity of fuel in the bow tank and the manner in which the engine speed was increased prior to the accident.

Perhaps the most avoidable circumstance that led to the fatality, however, was that the investigation found that a strap on the back of the girl’s buoyancy aid had become snagged on the starboard aft mooring cleat. “The buoyancy aid was not a close fit, increasing the opportunity for it to become snagged,” the MAIB report states.

“Although there is no legal requirement for buoyancy aids to be worn in privately owned pleasure craft, it was sensible for them to be worn [in this cicumstance]. However, it is also important to ensure they are the right size and in good condition. [The girl] was wearing an extra-small ‘shorty’ wetsuit and an extra-large adult buoyancy aid. A buoyancy aid should be a close fit to prevent it rising up when floating in the water and to minimise the risk of it snagging.”

As a result of the investigation, the Royal Yachting Association intends to continue to its campaign to promote that;
•    Local weather forecasts and likely sea conditions for the intended area of operation should be obtained before deciding on venturing to sea:
•    Lifejackets and buoyancy aids should be the correct size for the wearer and adjusted to be a close fit;
•    Kill cords should always be attached to the driver before operating the engine.

With superyacht crew often heavily involved in tender operations, it is important to be aware of the safety concerns associated with buoyancy aid usage. The full MAIB report on the incident can be read here.