Off-duty skipper found at fault

A Timaru man has been convicted in relation to a fatal boating accident despite being the passenger and not the operator on the day.

Timaru man Frank Sanders died when a rowboat capsized on Lake Alexandrina on April 22 last year.

David Lloyd Batchelor, 68, was found guilty of permitting the operation of a boat in a manner which caused unnecessary danger or risk to others, including Mr Sanders and two others.

A sentencing date is yet to be set down.

In his findings released yesterday, Judge John Macdonald said he was satisfied the charge had been proven.

"The failure to have life jackets on the boat and to have worn them when embarking on that last fateful journey was the most obvious failing."

He said there was further fault in the consumption of alcohol.

While Judge Macdonald accepted "the defendant's status as the owner and supplier of the boat did not automatically make him the operator or the skipper", the key point was that Batchelor permitted his boat to be used.

He said it was a "tragic but eminently avoidable" accident.

In a defended hearing earlier this month, the court was told the men had taken a dozen cans of beer and a bottle of whisky on the trip. They also drank rum at a friend's bach that afternoon.

Maritime New Zealand investigations had not determined what caused the boat to capsize. However, it became windy and the lake had chopped up. The experienced boaties were not wearing lifejackets and were carrying only one flotation device with them.

Prosecutor Brent Stanaway said it was a tragic accident but was preventable if basic boating rules had been followed.

Defence counsel Wayne van Vuuren argued it had not been proven Batchelor was the boat's operator on the day.

Judge Macdonald said two passengers who gave evidence had been reluctant.

"I sensed too that they took the view that each man was responsible for his own safety and that the defendant had no greater responsibility than anyone else for what happened."

The court was told the men were 100 metres from the shore when the dinghy capsized. They clung to the boat for around two hours while it drifted to shore.

It was discovered that Mr Sanders could not swim. Although only 10 to 15 metres from shore, he panicked and disappeared under the water.

A pathologist attributed the death to cold water immersion and drowning. Mr Sanders had a pre-existing heart condition and a blood alcohol level of 133 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said all vessels needed a designated skipper, who was ultimately responsible for the safety and well-being of everybody on the boat.

He said there were few cases where there was confusion around that.

Around 15 to 20 people drowned in boating accidents each year. The key to reducing the toll was education and increasing awareness, Mr Claridge said.

"That responsibility [as skipper] should never be taken lightly."

The Timaru Herald