Changes needed in power boat racing, says coroner

The Otago Southland coroner has called for changes to high-speed boating following the death of an Invercargill woman at a boat marathon on Lake Waihola last year.

Invercargill hairdresser Lyn Burnett died on July 6, 2011, after a boat she was a crew member on flipped while racing in the annual Milton Boat Club Marathon on Lake Waihola.

In his formal written finding, Otago Southland coroner David Crerar makes several recommendations including calling for prior Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) approval for boating events, the wearing of safety harnesses by crews during boat races, and pre-race analysis of race environments.

He also suggests St John Ambulance continue with current enhancements of its service.

Ms Burnett was filling in as a crew member on Gary Sexton's racing boat Pure Insanity competing in the annual Milton Boat Club Marathon at Lake Waihola on July 2, 2011, when the boat flipped and she was thrown out.

She died from her injuries four days later.

The finding says her death was the result of chest and lung injuries which led to a brain injury from lack of oxygen and shock.

Several events had combined to create tragic circumstances, among them the loss of control of Pure Insanity and the standard of paramedic care at the event, the finding says.

Milton Boat Club had met MNZ obligations for medical cover under current requirements for its hosting of the power boat marathon, the finding says.

Mr Crerar recommended MNZ require organisers to have boating events approved before they were held to assess risk and determine safety and rescue coverage necessary. Organisers should be made to liaise with St John Ambulance to help identify the risk and the level of support needed, he said.

Of the two ambulance staff at the event, one had qualifications which were not at a paramedic standard, while the other was doubling as a crew member for one of the racing boats, so was compromised in his duties, the finding says.

Mr Crerar recommended the ambulance service continue its education and training programme, create staff clinical competence reviews, and address identified failures to pass on appropriate information between crews.

He also recommended the New Zealand Boat Marathon Association enhance its vessel scrutineering process to take into account lessons learned from the Lake Waihola incident.

While it was unclear what caused the boat's loss of control and roll-over in the marathon event, the most likely cause was a failure of its transom, Mr Crerar found.

He also recommended the New Zealand Boat Marathon Commission consider fitting seat belts so crew members could not be thrown from boats.

The Southland Times