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Managing Maritime Safety - The Risks of Letting Passengers Steer Your Boat

Managing your safety risks.

"Move over, Captain. I've got this - I used to own a boat."

"Oh, please, can she drive? It's her birthday."

"Do you mind if I just get a quick photo behind the wheel to send to my friend?"

"Can I have a turn?."... do any of these questions sound familiar?

A Master driving a boat with a passenger looking over their shoulder
Deciding whether to allow your passengers to take the wheel can be challenging.

It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

A three-day birthday cruise aboard a commercial private charter boat, with 13 passengers ready to celebrate and party like it's 1999. But the journey took an unexpected and dangerous turn when the Captain allowed unqualified and inexperienced passengers to steer the vessel, unsupervised. The result? A grounding described as "terrifying" and a legal aftermath that saw the Captain convicted and fined over $15,000.

So, let's break this down. On one hand, allowing passengers to steer a boat can be an exhilarating experience, offering them a taste of seafaring life and potentially sparking a lifelong interest in maritime adventures. It's a unique opportunity, one that isn't often found in everyday life.

But here’s the catch: with great opportunity comes great responsibility. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) reported that a litany of safety issues led to the vessel's grounding. This included not only the critical error in judgment of allowing inexperienced hands at the wheel but also a failure to meet basic safety requirements like providing proper lifejackets and securing the tender....which ended up floating away (bugger!).

These oversights highlight a vital aspect of maritime safety. According to the United States Coast Guard, in 2019 alone, there were 4,168 recreational boating accidents in the U.S., resulting in 613 deaths and approximately $55 million in property damage. A significant number of these incidents are attributed to operator inattention and inexperience.

The grounding incident serves as a stark reminder of the maritime safety responsibilities that come with being a Captain. The magistrate's comment in court about the grounding being "terrifying for the passengers" underlines the potential consequences of such negligence.

While the idea of letting passengers steer can be appealing, it must be weighed against the safety protocols and responsibilities that govern the maritime world. Commercial operators are not just responsible for navigating the vessel, but also for the safety and well-being of everyone on board. This incident shows that skippers who neglect these duties not only endanger their lives but also face serious legal repercussions.

So, what's the takeaway for all the seafaring enthusiasts out there? If you're a boat operator or Captain, remember that your primary duty is to ensure the safety of your passengers. This means adhering to maritime laws, ensuring that everyone on board is familiar with safety procedures, and, crucially, making the call on who is qualified to steer the vessel.

For passengers, the allure of steering a boat is undeniable. But it's equally important to respect the ocean's might and the expertise required to navigate it safely. Enjoy the experience, but always prioritize safety.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Would you allow a passenger to steer under your supervision? Or do you believe the helm should be reserved for trained hands only? Share your opinions in the comments below!



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