Worst Case Scenario
Monday, March 13, 2017 8:28 PM
It was the start of a busy charter season in the south of France. M/Y
’s crew welcomed their guests on board — two families and their teenage children. After introductions and orientation, the captain asked the watersports instructor to show the three teenage boys the yacht’s new personal watercraft (PWC), knowing they would be in some excellent anchorages in the coming weeks.
The PWCs were powerful machines and had been purchased at the beginning of the season with the experienced owner and his family in mind. They usually were used by the owner for excursions ashore without the crew in attendance. The yacht’s deckhand, who was also a qualified PWC instructor, believed they were relatively safe as far as yacht toys went for charter guests; however, they had the potential to be lethal if ridden dangerously, largely due to their very fast top speed.
The teenagers were boisterous 16 year olds and it was clear that the principal viewed them as the crew’s responsibility from the moment they stepped on board. Despite being experienced, the instructor was only a few years older than the boys and looked the same age. He immediately struggled to assert any authority despite his best efforts, and the boys were not used to being told what to do.
The following day, the yacht anchored in a bay with perfectly flat water, which was unusual for the location. Nevertheless, he got the PWCs ready and went through the yacht’s standardized safety briefing before giving the boys a hands-on demonstration.
“The main thing is to make sure your guests are properly trained in safe use of the PWC,” says Tim Griffin of Griffin Marine Services, a PWC specialist. “Secondly, the area of operation should have been risk assessed. And thirdly, local bylaws should always be adhered to.”
The briefing for PWC use on M/Y
had been altered at the season’s start, a result of feedback from the yacht’s charter broker that the captain and his crew had a “briefing for everything” for guests, and the yacht’s safety cards had been simplified, including those for the new PWCs.
Amongst several clear rules was that they remain in sight of the yacht at all times and that all other yachts should be given a wide berth. The instructor looked around the bay, seeing more boats anchored than he would have liked. The boys were itching to get going and their parents had been wowed by the captain’s first picturesque anchorage choice. On the other hand, the instructor couldn’t wait to get the boys off the boat.
With the briefing complete, the paperwork double-checked, and a friendly reminder they were being watched, the instructor made his way up top to keep an eye on them, making the captain aware of his concerns.
As the instructor suggested, the boys had taken the PWCs to the deeper part of the anchorage and were sticking to the water behind where other yachts were anchored, so he began to relax. It didn’t last long. Within half an hour, disaster struck, although no one on board was close enough to see what happened.
A panicked voice came over the VHF the boys had been given for emergencies — they had disappeared into the next bay and had hit something. It sounded bad. With the yacht’s tender already in the water, two deckhands set off in search.
As they rounded the corner, it became clear that something very serious had happened. Another superyacht tender was alongside, hauling an unconscious woman aboard. As the two deckhands arrived on the scene, the other crew was pointing the tender ashore. Looking disturbed, one of the crew shouted, “They hit her!”
While cutting close to the shore and moving into the next bay at high speed, the boys had run over a popular snorkeling spot. One PWC hit another superyacht guest, knocking her unconscious.
Mark Bononi, director of MHG Insurance’s Yacht Division, points out that yachts must be very careful with coverage of PWC operations. “Is the charter guest actually licensed to operate the watercraft in question? The yacht may be certified to license guests while on charter, but if they’re not, then there could be a problem with using them,” he says. “There also may be rules restricting their use beyond licensing.”
Local regulations vary significantly, from outright PWC bans to specific restrictions on operating. “Maritime authorities throughout the Mediterranean have become more stringent with PWC use,” states the website www.superyachtpwc.com. “There have been a number of reported instances where PWC drivers using PWCs belonging to the yacht have been party to a random check and heavily fined when unable to produce an appropriate licence.” An overview of regulations can be found on the website.
Simon Winter of Simon Winter Marine in Devon, UK, adds that there may be limitations to how well a yacht is covered depending on the specific type of watercraft being used. “Limitations of cover may arise in areas where the risk or perceived risk is high, e.g., high speed. For subsea craft in particular, [it’s] always best to check that liability coverage is satisfactory. Insurers would expect the crew to maintain clear and demonstrable safety protocols, craft to be operated in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations, and maintenance schedules recorded and kept up to date. These are likely areas of examination by insurers in the event of a claim,” he says.
The boys were quickly met by a French police patrol boat and immediately were found to be in breach of regulations — they were both out of sight of the yacht and less than 300 meters from the shore. It goes without saying that there were significant repercussions for the crew and litigation from the injured party, and an abrupt halt to what could have been the charter of a lifetime.
Back to top