Unsafe vessel provisions set a dangerous precedent

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  06 Jul 2012

Unsafe vessel provisions set a dangerous precedent

So it's disturbing to find Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) crowing about the recent conviction of a Sydney boatbuilder.

The 31-year-old copped almost $8000 in fines and court costs after allegedly making modifications that compromised the vessel's stability.

As the first successful prosecution under new unsafe vessel provisions it sets an equally dangerous precedent in my view.

RMS's acting general manager of maritime operations, Trevor Williams, insists the 4.8-metre boat in question was ‘literally an accident waiting to happen'. Modifications included fitting a motor ‘which was too large', removing the steering wheel and installing a tiller handle to the 200hp motor, removing seating, removing installed fuel tanks and mounting the motor in an unorthodox manner.

Apparently, the owner's mate borrowed the boat and, while under the influence of alcohol, lost control and received propeller injuries. By all means the RMS has the right to prosecute intoxicated drivers ... blaming the boat is another matter.

A quick Google search showed it's not the first tiller-steered 200hp outboard, nor is it the lone ranger when it comes to being excessively overpowered.

fined boat  Mark Rothfield

The nautical world is littered with designers and builders pushing the safety envelope, with many an architect-designed ship succumbing on its maiden voyage. Back in the '70s a racing boat driver I know had four barrel-rolls in one day.

There was a memorable Top Gear episode where Jeremy Clarkson bolted a 200hp Honda to the back of an amphibious Nissan ute. Irresponsible and reprehensible? Absolutely! But on the fourth attempt he made it across the English Channel to France. No one fined him.

TV adventurer Bear Grills has crossed raging rapids in rafts seemingly constructed of inflated camel bladders strung together with the nasal hairs of African elephants. No one fined him either.

I get the fact that an innocent waterway user may have been harmed by this 4.8-metre missile but that's the reality we all face every weekend. I've seen plenty of wealthy guys in obscenely fast sportscruisers who bear a licence and the boat-driving skills of a gnat.

In their boiling wake and mermaids waggling their little fingers.

Is modifying a boat an $8000 crime when the RMS slugs car drivers $353 for running a red light? I'd suggest that until such time as NSW has a ‘blue slip' for boats or an impoundment system then Big Brother should perhaps pick on people their own size.

If anything, it confirms that it isn't the most radical thing I've seen by any stretch of the imagination (that award, by the way, would probably go to an inground fibreglass pool that I saw powering around Lake Macquarie with an outboard).

Mark Rothfield

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