Alcohol impaired the abilities of a recreational jet boat driver and led to a fatal accident on a remote river in
Fiordland, says the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC).
One passenger was fatally injured, and two others seriously injured in the accident on Hollyford River in Fiordland
National Park on 18 March 2019.
The boat with four people on board was travelling at 35 to 50 kph in fading evening light when it hit a rock in a
shallow channel. The driver lost control and the boat skidded along gravel and came to rest on a gravel bar in the
middle of the river.
The Chief investigator of Accidents, Aaron Holman, says the accident was made more likely by a combination of
insufficient planning; insufficient daylight; and too much speed and alcohol.
“The Commission’s long-standing advice is that people in safety-critical roles should not be impaired by alcohol or
drugs; it’s a TAIC Watchlist item and the subject of numerous previous recommendations
"The driver's blood alcohol concentration was about three times New Zealand's legal limit for driving a car.
“The Commission found it was virtually certain that the accident happened because alcohol consumption impaired the
driver’s ability to make good decisions and to operate the jet boat safely.
"The jet boat's speed meant the driver had less time to make good driving decisions, and in the flat lighting
conditions, rocks and other risk features were hard to see, further affecting the driver's ability to set a safe course.
"All of this, and there was insufficient planning. In unfavourable environmental conditions, skippers need to plan their
trip thoroughly, drive to the conditions, and recognise the limits of their ability."
In recommendations, TAIC is calling for Maritime New Zealand to improve its fatal accident database about accidents and
incidents involving alcohol impairment. It is also renewing its call for legislation to prohibit people in
safety-critical roles being impaired by alcohol or drugs.
You can download a copy of the report here: https://www.taic.org.nz/inquiry/mo-2019-202
The Commission opens an inquiry when it believes the circumstances of an accident or incident have - or are likely to
have - significant implications for transport safety, or when the inquiry may allow the Commission to make findings or
recommendations to improve transport safety.
To help prevent similar accidents or incidents in future, the Commission is calling for action on two recommendations –
one outstanding and one new.
· An outstanding recommendation aims to reduce alcohol risk through the law. In 2013, TAIC recommended new legislation or rules to prohibit people in safety-critical roles being impaired by
alcohol or drugs. The Transport Amendment Act 2017 addresses this for people safety-sensitive workers in commercial
operations, but does not allow for random testing and excludes the recreational boating sector. Recommendation 012/13
· The Commission also made a new recommendation that Maritime New Zealand continue to develop its fatal accident database to improve the quality of the data about accidents and incidents. The better the occurrence data, the better the safety management. The limited data
available on alcohol and drug use in the recreational maritime sector reduces the ability of the sector to understand
the impacts of alcohol and drugs and implement effective controls. Recommendation 001/20
TAIC Watchlist: Substance use: regulatory environment for preventing performance impairment. The TAIC Watchlist draws attention of regulators, operators, the Government and the people involved in transport every
day to transport-related concerns of high social, economic or environmental risk; and systemic transport safety risks.
· The likelihood and severity of accidents increase if people in safety-critical tasks use drugs or alcohol.
· In New Zealand accidents investigated by TAIC, consumption of alcohol or other performance impairing substances recurs
as a contributing factor or a potential impediment to survival.
· Some progress has been made in legislating for the regulator to undertake non-notified drug and alcohol testing of
commercial maritime operators. More should be done.