Vigilance is key to boating safety
The previous six months have seen two serious boating accidents in Pilbara waters.
Last year, commercial fishing trawler the Returner sank in Nickol Bay off the Burrup Peninsula, killing three people, and last month keen spear-fishermen Matt Pennington and Lawrence Smith lost their lives when their recreational boat capsized near Mawby Island.
The Pilbara Ports Authority also recorded 23 incidents in Port Hedland and five incidents in Dampier last year, through what are the world’s largest bulk export ports.
Coronial inquests into both major accidents are ongoing and though there is no clear indication either happened because of safety oversights, they certainly remind local skippers of the importance of water safety.
The North West Water police monitor water activity for the northern WA coastline from Canarvon to Wyndham. Operations manager Sergeant Scott Gillis said though most people do the right thing on the water, there is a lot of complacency.
“People look at boating as a recreation, so they think there’s less chance of accidents happening and there’s not as much on the water as on the road,” he said.
West Pilbara Volunteer Sea Search and Rescue president Bruce Hardwicke has seen plenty go wrong on the water in his eight years with the team. In the past month alone the group has been involved in five different rescues.
He and his wife, fellow volunteer Nikki Hardwicke, said Pilbara waters present a unique set of potential dangers including rocky island outcrops and big tides. That means it is critical people know their surroundings and are especially careful at night-time.
They said there is also the issue of zealous fishers not telling others where they are going.
“You don’t have to tell them the fishing spot that you’re going to, but say you’re heading in a particular area so we don’t end up somewhere else looking for you,” Mr Hardwicke said.
Pilbara Ports Authority general manager of operations John Finch said with so many commercial vehicles travelling through port, recreational skippers need to follow their safety protocols.
“Safety protocols are in place to minimise the risk of an incident happening and to ensure the safety of all people navigating through PPA’s harbours,” he said.
But for all teams, the key message is that skippers need to have all the proper boat safety equipment and know how to use it.
Whenever you go out on the water, make sure you note these water safety basics:
■ In-date flares. Out-of-date flares often fail to fire, and are now illegal. The West Pilbara Volunteer Sea Rescue holds flare-training sessions to teach people how to use them.
■ Registered EPIRBs. Simply registering them on the Australian Marine Safety Authority could save hours of waiting to be rescued.
■ A VHF radio. 27MHz radios are not sufficient in the Pilbara, and mobile phones can fail. “Radios are basically (our) line of sight,” said Mr Hardwicke.
■ Life jackets stowed onboard in an easy-to-access location. ■ Emergency numbers. ■ An action plan in the event of trouble.
■ The right navigational equipment for your needs. For example, radars may be helpful for night-time fishing.
■ An awareness of tides and weather. Smartphone apps are an easy way to track these.
■ A good understanding of the surrounding area. Spend time with local skippers beforehand and monitor navigational equipment on the water.
■ Stay clear of large commercial vessels in ports and remember they may not be able to see you at all times.
Sgt Gillis said water safety largely comes down to prior preparation while still on solid ground.
“The key thing is it all starts at home, before you back out the driveway. You can check all that before you leave,” he said.
“There’s always going to be that risk of something happening out at sea, but the majority of issues would be resolved just by checking.”
West Pilbara Volunteer Sea Search & Rescue volunteers Nikki and Bruce Hardwicke in front of the team rescue boat at Dampier’s Hampton Harbour.
North West Water police Sergeant Scott Gillis and Senior Constables Andy Johnson and David Taylor in front of the police boat.