Safety Lessons from Marine Incident Investigation (AMSA Report) No.13 – November 2022

Person overboard without lifejacket following risky behaviour in adverse weather conditions


On the evening of 2 April 2022, a Sydney Harbour ferry was operating a regular route between Manly and Circular Quay. A group of young males were exhibiting risk taking behaviour on the deck during adverse weather conditions. One of the group jumped, stumbled, and fell overboard without a lifejacket. The master came about and followed the ferry track back at dead slow to find the person overboard (POB). The POB had the presence of mind to use his mobile phone torch light in the dark to alert the master of his presence and was rescued. 

What happened 

At 1915 on 2 April 2022, passenger boarding had just been finalised for a Class 1D ferry prior to returning to Circular Quay from Manly wharf. The weather conditions at the time were strong seas with a 3 to 4 metre swell and a SSE wind at 15 knots. At departure, the master triggered an automated PA announcement warning passengers of the sea state, recommending they move inside and be seated. A few minutes later, the master made the announcement again. Around this time, a group of young males began jumping on the deck with the wave action in an effort to remain airborne longer than usual as the vessel pitched and rolled. When just west of north head, one of the group jumped and upon landing, stumbled, failed to grab the rail as a wave rolled under the vessel and he fell overboard. His friends and some other passengers saw the incident and raised the alarm, informing the master. The master slowed the vessel ready to come about and alerted Vessel Traffic Services. The master spun the ferry and followed its reciprocal track at dead slow searching for the POB. The POB used his mobile phone’s torch to alert the master of his position. The master positioned the ferry downwind of the POB and the crew threw him a life buoy with a light for position reference, and then a lifejacket. The crew were then able to drop a heavy mooring rope to him and pull him amidships where a ladder was set up. The POB climbed the ladder with assistance.  

Investigation findings 

The investigation identified the following contributory factors: 

  • A group of young male passengers were exhibiting risk taking behaviour on the aft starboard quarter of the ferry by using the vessel’s momentum given the sea state to jump and remain airborne for as along as possible. This behaviour was identified by the crew and reported to the master. 
  • Although the master triggered two PA announcements alerting passengers to the conditions and requesting they move inside and be seated, the crew did not specifically tell the young group of risk taking passengers to move inside and sit down. 
  • The speed of the vessel in the large swell contributed to rapid pitch and roll. 

Safety message 

This situation and outcome were readily identifiable and foreseeable safety risks. Given the weather conditions, sea state and behaviours portrayed by the young group of passengers, more stringent passenger monitoring needed to occur and the dynamic and rapidly unfolding nature of the risks to safety needed to be acted upon immediately by the crew.  

Last updated: 

Tuesday 22 November 2022