As part of UK MAIB’s Safety Digest, it is presented a case where a swimmer experienced a serious cut to the head and fractures to his spine and ribs while swimming in a harbour.
It was a fine, clear afternoon and a small open passenger ferry was nearing the end of its scheduled passage between an island and the mainland. As the ferry entered the mainland harbour a loud bang was heard, and the ferry jolted.
Realising that the ferry had hit a submerged object, the skipper put the engine in neutral and looked aft, where he saw a swimmer who was evidentlyconscious but bleeding from a head wound.
Assisted by the crew of another local boat, the swimmer was helped ashore and taken to hospital, where he was found to have suffered a serious cut to the head and fractures to his spine and ribs. The swimmer was treated inhospital before completing a full recovery at home.
- Warning signs serve a valuable purpose.
This accident happened in a small town with a signifcant tourist population, where local beaches and the harbour were frequently used by swimmers. Recognising the risk, the harbour authority had put up warning notices about the hazards of swimming in the harbour. However, these signs had been removed due to vandalism. With nothing to inform the swimmer that the ferry service was running on the day of the accident, he was not expecting any vessel movements in the harbour and judged it to be a safe location in which to swim. Where a known risk exists, harbour authorities should take action to minimise this risk. A warning sign indicating when the ferry service was running might have led the swimmer to choose an alternative swimming location out of the way of the ferry.
- Open water swimmers are semi-submerged objects that can be almost impossible to see and avoid, by any vessel. In this case the swimmer was wearing a black wetsuit and foating with his head under the water to test his goggles at the time of the collision. While aids to visibility, such as brightly coloured swim caps and towed foats, are available, and advised for open water swimmers, the best way to prevent a collision is to achieve separation between swimmers and boats. A designated buoyed-of area for swimming might have provided a more suitable location for the swimmer to test his new kit.