NEWS - Sydney lawyer calls for safer jetboat industry

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Weekend incident on Sydney Harbour prompts urgent need for more experienced skippers

A Sydney lawyer says skippers need more experience before being allowed to take the helm of commercial jetboats following an incident that left two passengers injured on Sydney Harbour last weekend.

Robert Bryden, a compensation lawyer and avid recreational sailor said to reduce jetboat incidents, Australian marine regulators should draw on the experience of New Zealand, where the commercial jetboat industry is a far bigger and more established industry.

"While adequate guidelines are in place (in NSW), what is sadly often lacking at the operational level is an adequate level of common sense and know-how," said Bryden.

"A young jetboat skipper may be very proficient in operating the vessel, but owing to lack of experience is vulnerable to elements that fall beyond abilities and simply can’t be provided through a quick pre-trip briefing," he said.

According to Bryden, the introduction of mandatory probationary supervision for jetboat skippers in NSW holds the key for reducing accidents, while enhancing the reputation of the operators themselves.

Last weekend, a young female passenger and an older male passenger onboard a commercial Sydney Harbour jetboat ended up in hospital with back injuries (in the case of the women this turned out to be

a fractured spine).

Bryden said he has in the past represented a jetboat victim, whose circumstances were similar to the events of the weekend.

"In my client’s case an enthusiastic young skipper took the craft out towards the Harbour heads," said Bryden. "In his enthusiasm, he gunned the throttle too hard just as the boat came into direct contact with the swell and literally launched itself at speed, getting airborne in the process and then falling 3m or 4m onto a surface that is as hard as concrete."

In today’s Sydney Daily Telegraph, a neurosurgeon confirmed that he has seen more than 20 spinal injuries caused by similar jetboat incidents in the last five years and alludes to there being perhaps "many more cases going out there".

Bryden adds that unless this issue is addressed then it is likely we will see more jetboat-related back injuries in the future and says Australian authorities should adopt guidelines already established in NZ.

"One suggestion is looking to our Kiwi brethren, where river jetboating is a far bigger business than in Australia," said Bryden.

"In 1998, when there were already 52 commercial jetboat businesses in operation, Maritime New Zealand realised that their operational guidelines needed further adaptation to meet the needs of this niche industry.

"Many of the subsequent rules are similar to our own in NSW, with the exception that the ‘person driving the jetboat must have not less than 50 hours experience as a jetboat driver’," he said, recommending the introduction of similar mandatory probationary supervision for Australian jetboat skippers.

"As with other professionals, who similarly take on the responsibility of human lives every time they are at the helm — such as airline pilots —
this sort of hands-on guidance is essential for passing on the life skills that can only be learnt with experience," said Bryden.


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