Hotwired cat


Dad and the two boys were experienced sailors and regularly raced their catamaran on the local (inland) lake. The family camping holiday down the coast was an opportunity to try something a bit different and sail offshore.

The plan was to use the launching ramp in the lagoon near the campsite and then drag the catamaran over the bar into the surf. Because the lagoon was shallow, most of the boats were small runabouts used for fishing and very few sailing boats used the lagoon.

Everyone donned a wetsuit and a personal floatation device (PFD), then helped to rig and launch the vessel. Once the car was parked, the two boys climbed aboard and the father waded through the shallows, towing the vessel to the bar. The eldest son took the tiller and steered away from the shore so that the vessel didn’t become entangled in trees overhanging the water.

As the father walked through the shallows, he was watching where he trod so that he didn’t trip. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a metal post and when he looked up saw that it was a sign warning of the presence of 11,000 volt power-lines overhead. Simultaneously the vessel drifted into the first power-line and the Father felt a tingle through his rubber wetsuit glove and dropped the rope.

Onboard the catamaran, the eldest son was thrown from the catamaran and into the water where he lay in a dazed state. Fortunately for him, his wetsuit also provided some protection from the electricity and his PFD kept his head above water while he recovered from the electric shock.

The youngest son was also fortunate to escape death. He slid across the aluminum crossbar between the hulls and into the water, narrowly missing the section where electricity was arcing between the boat and the water. Although he didn’t receive an electric shock, the arcing had caused the aluminum to become hot. As a consequence, the son’s PFD was partially melted and he received full thickness burns to his upper right arm.

Lessons learned

  1. This incident shows the importance of having as much local knowledge as possible about the waterway you are operating on. Always be mindful of the possible presence of overhead power-lines both on the water and at boat ramps.
  2. Keep a good lookout at all times for anything that may be a danger to your vessel.
  3. You never know how or when you might end accidentally in the water. Wearing a PFD at all times is strongly recommended. A PFD is like a seatbelt. If it is not on, then it can’t help you.
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