Maritime NZ Northern Regional Manager, Neil Rowarth, said the diver suffered significant lacerations to his head that needed eight staples. He also suffered a broken arm and lacerations to his arm that required numerous stitches. As a result of his injuries, he was unable to work for 12 months.
If the diver had been hit at a slightly different angle, this could easily have been a fatal accident. Recreational boaties must understand skipper responsibility. Every boat has a skipper, they are legally responsible for the safety of people in and around the boat, and must know the rules of the sea. In this case, the skipper was speeding and not keeping a proper look-out.
According to Maritime NZ, maritime Rules impose a speed limit of 5 knots (9 km/h) within 50 metres of a person in the water and 200 metres of a boat flying a dive flag. They also require every vessel to maintain a proper look-out to be fully aware of the situation and risk of collision.
The accident occurred north of Auckland between Ti Point and Omaha, on 5 February 2017. A prominent sign at the boat ramp alerted skippers to the fact that the area was popular with divers and snorkelers and emphasizing the need to keep a proper lookout and proceed at a safe speed.
Conditions were described as ideal for boating and diving, it being a sunny day with low wind. The diver had swam about 200 metres from Ti Point with an orange buoy and blue and white dive flag attached to his spear gun by a 20 metre line. He was spear fishing near a weed line popular with divers.
Mr Whiteman and three passengers left the Omaha boat ramp in his 3.5 metre inflatable powerboat. He said he saw the orange buoy but did not “register” the dive flag on the buoy. He assumed the buoy marked a crayfish pot and did not alter course or slow down.
The diver was looking down for fish no more than 20 metres from his buoy and flag, when he was run over by Mr Whiteman’s boat travelling at between 10 and 15 knots (19 to 28 km/h).
Mr Whiteman turned his boat around to help the diver, and one of the passengers called the Police. They took the diver to Ti Point wharf where they were met by Police and an ambulance.
The skipper was inexperienced and had no boating qualification. This was his first boat and only the third or fourth time he had taken it out on the water. I urge every new skipper to get training and help from a boat club or Coastguard Boating Education. It’s not hard, it’s not expensive and you get to meet boaties and have some fun learning. What you learn makes you, your family and friends, and others in the water safer - and if you see a dive flag, slow down.