Accident investigation branch makes recommendations to improve safety

Team-building, thrill-rides and other high-octane fast RIB trips have been blamed for causing numerous injuries to members of the public, according to a report issued yesterday by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB).

The report stated: ‘Boat trips of varying intensities in small, fast, commercial craft have grown in popularity in recent years. However, these craft are particularly susceptible to relatively high levels of shock and vibration when transiting choppy or disturbed waters when the risk of spinal and other injuries in these craft is increased.

One such incident involved a 55 year old female passenger on board a 9m RIB, who suffered a lower back wedge compression fracture. She was participating in a 1 hour boat trip in the Bristol Channel with 10 colleagues as part of a corporate team building exercise. The injury occurred when the passenger landed heavily on her seat after she was momentarily lifted into the air due to the motion of the craft. She was treated in hospital and fitted with an external spine brace before returning home to begin a 6 month recuperation programme.

The report summary said: ‘The MAIB is aware of 28 accidents that have resulted in lower back compression injuries on board RIBs since 2001, one of which occurred in April 2009.

‘The risk of this type of injury can be reduced by the skill of a boat’s coxswain, boat design and procedures such as the exclusion of individuals particularly at risk for medical reasons.

‘Boat handling skills, including the ability to judge and anticipate the effects of the
prevailing sea conditions is the most significant factor when managing the risks
associated with high speed powerboat operations.’

RIB buoyancy tubes were highlighted as causing slamming on large waves and the re-positioning of the passengers’ seats towards the stern would significantly reduce their exposure for given speeds and sea states. Shock damping seats are available but at significant cost and harnesses can be used to keep passengers in contact with their seats, but with other safety implications, such as entrapment in the case of capsize.

Investigators have issued recommendations to the RYA, MCA, the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services and the Institute of Licensing and the Passenger Boat and Professional Boatman’s Associations to develop an approved code of practice for thrill-type rides in the UK.