Safety Lessons from Marine Incident Investigation (AMSA Report) No.17 – March 2023

Unheeded weather warnings result in fishing charter vessel flooding.


A charter fishing vessel proceeding to a fishing spot began experiencing progressively worsening weather conditions and water ingress. Despite the owner’s warning prior to departure and passenger complaints, the master continued to the fishing destination.

Strong winds and waves hampered anchoring, with water accumulating on deck through the transom door to the point of flooding. The vessel’s EPIRB was deployed, and a rescue helicopter attended, winching the master and passengers to safety.

What happened

On 20 April 2022, a 2C fishing charter vessel prepared to depart on a fishing trip. Due to forecasted bad weather, the owner advised the master to remain closer inshore. As the trip commenced, the vessel encountered progressively worse wind and wave conditions, to the extent that 2 of the passengers were considerably uncomfortable, leading one to express their concern to the master. The vessel arrived at the fishing destination and the master deployed the anchor with difficulty as weather conditions worsened.

The vessel started taking on water rapidly through the transom door opening (which had no closing device in place) and began accumulating to significant levels. A passenger requested the master move to more sheltered waters, but the master decided to stay where they were. When the water ingress became severe, the master attempted a MAYDAY call. However, the radio battery located beneath the console flooded with salt water and was unserviceable. The master started the engine and while recovering the anchor, fishing lines fouled the prop and stalled the motor. Without propulsion or holding an anchor, the vessel was able to go abeam in the conditions.

Given the combination of free surface and reduced freeboard, water flooded in through the transom opening unhindered. Location of the buoyancy chambers being at a suitable height in the gunwale prevented the vessel from losing stability and capsizing. The EPIRB was deployed, and a rescue helicopter attended and winched all aboard to safety.

Investigation findings

The investigation identified the following contributory factors:

  • The vessel was operating within its permissible load limits and area of operation. However, the weather conditions were unsuitable for such an operation (wind strength was reported as gusting up to 26 knots with wave height to 1.5 metres).
  • The transom door was not in place and therefore lowered the vessel’s point of down flooding, allowing rapid water ingress. It appears that the bilge pump for the above deck water did not operate effectively, either due to a mechanical fault or blockage.
  • Emergency equipment (Flares and EPIRB) were not readily available for immediate use and needed a key for access. The radio battery location contributed to an ineffective emergency response. The emergency response by the master was implemented too late and with reported deficiency, as claimed by passengers.
  • The owner’s instructions to the master regarding weather conditions were not carried out, and it appears the effectiveness of the level flotation provided by the vessel design likely prevented the vessel from capsizing.

Safety message

This hazard situation and outcome were readily identifiable and foreseeable safety risks. Given the weather forecast, the master was appropriately instructed by the owner to proceed inshore to safer waters but failed to heed the instructions. Given the sea state, and the dynamic and rapidly unfolding risks to safety, the master has a responsibility to continue to ensure first and foremost the safety of crew and passengers (see link to further safety information below).  

Also, of importance is maintaining watertight/weathertight integrity and ensuring emergency safety equipment is well maintained, in functional order and easily accessible.

Additionally, this incident has identified the importance of level flotation in the event of vessel swamping.

Safety information on this topic

General Safety Duties for Domestic Commercial Vessels

Last updated: 29 August 2023