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It takes a tinnie tragedy to learn a lifejacket lesson

by Mark Rothfield on 25 Jun 2011
Stormy Inflatable Life Jacket doing what they do best Michele Ferguson
Tinnies have the highest fatality rate, with most accidents occurring on waters you would hardly rate as hostile.

It sometimes takes a shocking death to highlight the importance of lifejackets. Boat owners and buyers must take note before the boating authorities are forced to crack down further.


It was with gut-wrenching dismay that I read news reports this week about the body of a teenage girl being found after a tinnie tragedy on Lake Macquarie, near Newcastle NSW.

As someone employed in the business of pleasure, and the father of similar-aged children, it struck doubly hard. How the girl’s family and friends must be feeling is unfathomable.

With hindsight it’s easy to see how the incident could’ve been avoided. The winds were strong, the chop big, the occupants inexperienced. None of the three teens on board was wearing a PDF, though there were some in the boat.

NSW Maritime responded with a media release again warning of the importance of lifejackets.

The authority has already cracked down hard in recent times. Lifejackets are compulsory for children under 12, anyone boating alone, or at night when in a boat less than 4.8 metres, and for everyone on board a boat less than 4.8 metres when on alpine waters or offshore.

It is the skipper’s responsibility to ensure passengers are wearing a lifejacket at times of heightened risk.

Statistics show that tinnies have the highest associated fatality rate. Admittedly they're the most popular type of boat in Australia and New Zealand but most accidents occur on waters that you would hardly rate as hostile.

In the past I’ve tested small forward-steer runabouts that were almost impossible to drive one-up because of the alarming heel. One shipped water over the aft quarter as I went into a routine turn.

And there are basic, two-thwart tinnies in the system that will sink in the event of a swamping or capsize. Three foam-filled seats should provide sufficient buoyancy but many buyers favour the open floor of a two-seater.

The case rekindled a childhood memory of a similar trip we made on Port Stephens on the NSW coast. As the wind built to over 30 knots we headed for the nearest shore.

Dad prudently decided to hire a taxi for the drive back to home, where we picked up our car and trailer and returned.

It added three hours to the day and the taxi fare exceeded $100 but, some 35 years later, I am here to write about it.

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