Experience changes perspective on safety

It has been seven years since a near tragedy when my 42ft boat sank in less than 50 seconds almost killing my mate, our two 11yo sons and myself. That incident has taken me in a completely different direction in life, one that I could never have imagined.

I have travelled to Thailand many times in the early days to establish manufacturing and also to North America, UK and Europe to promote our life-saving product. In the last 18 months alone I have made 11 trips to the United States for trade shows, conferences and business meetings.

I have had the pleasure of speaking with many interesting people and have also done many boating safety presentations of my own. I have come to realise that we all have a common goal and that is to reduce the number of people who tragically lost their lives in boating incidents. Whether that be as a result of boating for pleasure or in our commercial fleets as professional fisherman, law enforcement officer or the in the charter boat industry. No matter what you may be doing on the water, there is always a risk that needs to be managed.

In the United States last year, over 700 people lost their lives and this represents a 25% increase in the last three years. The majority lose their lives as a result of their boat capsizing, sinking or being swamped. That’s 700 fathers, mothers, sons and daughters not returning home to their families. The social impact is enormous.

I don’t think that the majority of people realise that when something goes wrong on a boat, the consequences can be as violent as a car accident. A marine safety expert in the United States likens the current storage of marine safety equipment to keeping your seat belt in the boot of your car.

There are two main priorities if you do end up in the water. That is, to firstly stay afloat and secondly to alert someone of your position.

Over the years, since my accident, I have heard of dozens of tragic stories and near misses. Sometimes involving the loss of up to a dozen lives at a time. The findings into these deaths, often points to a missed opportunity to access their safety equipment.

It does not matter which country I visit, the authorities are all saying the same thing. How do we get the message out there? We all know that boating is fun and a great pastime. I have spent my life on the water and from the age of ten in a "tinny" I made the most of my boating adventures. We avoided the Water Police at any cost as we thought they would spoil our fun. Never did it cross our mind that they may just be trying to keep us safe and even save our lives.

Forty years later, I’ve seen and experienced a lot of different scenarios and my perception of marine safety has definitely changed. I’ve been lucky to survive after living life on the edge. I have been attacked by sharks, ring-barked by a Barracuda and even attacked by a crocodile in the Solomon Islands. But, the closest thing to killing me was when my boat sank in less than 50 seconds.

Australia has one of the highest marine safety standards in the world and our low fatalities rates are a testament to this. So respect the rules and think about the accessibility of marine safety equipment on your vessel to ensure the safety of your crew. Enjoy your boating in this amazing country, but be prepared and stay safe.

Scott Smiles

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Courtesy of Nautilus Magazine