Investigation sparked over superyacht toy incident

Transport Malta has published a report into the serious injury of a superyacht guest using a powered superyacht water toy, while on charter aboard M/Y Namaste 8 in September last year.

Transport Malta’s Marine Safety Investigation (MSIU) reported that the yacht was anchored off Ischia, Italy on 3rd September 2015 while the crew prepared and briefed the group on how to use the yacht’s “newly acquired” JetSurf powered surfboards, which can reach top speeds of up to 30knots. 

Crew provided passengers with tips on how to start the engine, accelerate, slow down, turn and release the control to disengage the key and shut down the engine following a fall. This was followed by a practical demonstration in the water.

Passengers were provided with the correct safety equipment, including high-impact water sports jackets. Safety helmets were also available on board, although passengers chose not to wear these. 

The first passenger entered the water and was assisted by one of the deckhands to steer and control the surfboard until she was confident to ride alone, before the other riders were assisted with their boards. Soon after, it was reported that the first passenger fell from her surfboard before it spun around and hit her on the head. 

The incident was noticed quickly by the supervising crew, and the passenger was picked up on the tender and assisted back onto the yacht were she was reportedly dazed, confused and bleeding from a wound above her left ear. She received first aid on board, but while the yacht was headed to Naples for medical assistance, the passenger reportedly had a seizure.

Naples Radio directed the master to head to Ischia where an ambulance met the yacht less than an hour after the incident – it was reported that the passenger had suffered a compound fracture to her skull, and a hairline fracture in one of the vertebrae in her neck. She also had a deep laceration forward of her left ear.

Looking into the circumstances of the incident, the MSIU found that the passenger had kept hold of the control handle as she fell off the board, perhaps in a bid to keep control of the board. In fact, this act meant that the engine did not cut out and the board propelled away from her in the water.

The accident highlights that the control of the surfboard actually depends on the link between operator and equipment. The report concluded that the “operator-surfboard interaction” could therefore be improved in two ways: By training operators and enhancing the embedded system safety design. 

The MSIU reported, “The training of the operators should also include explicit consideration and examples of human reactions and not limited to the operation of the surfboard.

“The system design, on the other hand, should be such that it takes into consideration human interaction with the equipment and possible safety concerns after a fall. As the accident indicated, falling from the surfboard but not releasing the grip on the trigger had actually by-passed a rather effective safety barrier system embedded within the equipment.” 

The incident also highlighted that a number of images were available on the website of Luxury Water Toys who supplied the boards, with passengers not wearing the mandatory safety helmets. 

As a result of the findings, Transport Malta recommends Namaste and the owning company to consult with the manufacturers to reduce the maximum speed limit, considering the potential limited experience and lack of skills that the operators maybe have. 

JetSurf and Luxury Water Toys are recommended to issue a safety alert to highlight the importance of releasing the control handle as soon as the rider falls from the surfboard, and consider a failsafe design which ensures that the engine is shut down without relying on the operator’s release of the control handle. They are also recommended to only use marketing images of operators wearing full safety gear and amend all the safety instructions in order to ensure that there are no conflicting messages with respect to the wearing of the safety helmets.

Read the full report from Transport Malta

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