Incident data summary

Incident reports are used to help identify patterns of risk and any new risks not previously envisaged. That in turn helps define our planned risk management activities.

The process of compiling incident information employed relies on the receiving-of or gathering-in of details of boating incidents including fire, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and now includes monitoring of capsize, sinking and man overboard incidents.

The Incident & Accident Data

The data collected cannot be considered as a complete record of incidents on any waters. Many minor incidents are not reported to any agency, let alone published. Where agencies, typically fire, ambulance or other health organisations have records of a boat related incidents, there are still likely to be only a minority of such records made public. Government records nationally suggest that fire services attend around 300-350 boat fires each year, although the definition of boats may not be consistent.

The incident data is recorded by the BSS Office.  The data includes incidents relating mostly to boats used on inland waterways.  However, incidents of fire, explosion and CO on coastal boats are recorded where the craft may be of the type that could be used inland or where the systems aboard may be common to those on inland boats.

The data cannot be considered as a complete record of incidents on any waters.  Many minor incidents are not reported to any agency, let alone published.  Where agencies, typically fire, ambulance or other health organisations have records of a boat related incidents, there are still likely to be only a minority of such records made public. 

In the BSS records, where fire has spread from one boat to another each boat affected is counted as one record and cause is recorded as conflagration.  This is a reference to one of the purposes of the Scheme to help prevent the spread of fire from happening. It is an indicator of the potential for such events.

Where two or more boats collide in one event, it is counted as one incident.

The tidal River Thames from Grays to Richmond i.e. an area under Port of London Authority (PLA) control, commonly used by inland waterways craft, is for the purposes of BSS incident reports included in Non-BSS Inland waterways.

Overview for 2015

This annual overview is based on 241 reports obtained of 255 incidents (counting the further affected boats) in 2015 on inland and coastal waters.

The BSS has gathered details of 209 incidents on all inland waterways (canals, lakes, lochs, rivers and inland hard standing sites) and 46 on UK coastal waters including marinas, harbours, creeks and inlets.

Nine of the inland incidents recorded are not on Association of Inland Navigation Authority (AINA) member waterways.

For 2015 there are 126 reports of sinkings, capsizes, man-overboard grounding and personal injury events on all inland waters.

The approximate ten percent increase in overall numbers over last year is unlikely to be statistically significant and may reflect the effort by the BSS team to gather the raw data. Overall fires, explosions, CO and pollution incidents are down very slightly on last year. Accidental fire / CO/ pollution events are down to levels last seen in 2009.

Between the first day of January and that last day of 2015 and there are been eight people killed in boating activities on inland waterways or related coastal activity.

Six deaths are linked to man-overboard (MOB) events, one is a personal injury and there is one linked to carbon monoxide

Of the MOB incidents two MOB happened on hire boats, one on a workboat, one on a private pleasure boat in a lock, two on open speedboats in tidal waters (Thames and Brixham) – although we do not normally report on coastal MOB, in this case, there are lessons for inland waterways boat users.

  • MOB - At Brixham, a Fletcher speedboat with one adult and three teenage children on board that capsized after encountering a large wave. Three of the occupants managed to swim clear of the upturned hull but one of the children became trapped. An MAIB investigation found that the girl’s buoyancy aid was too large for a child and not a close fit, and that provided the opportunity for it to snag on the boat’s rear cleat preventing her escape. Operators of boats in public use should be aware of this issue when considering the provision of buoyancy aids for customers of various sizes. For more information on the report see https://www.gov.uk/maib-reports/capsize-of-fletcher-155-speedboat-resulting-in-1-fatality
  • MOB - In December a man and a woman were aboard a Fletcher speedboat, being used in the dark on the Thames at Wandsworth. Neither were wearing lifejackets and the pair were thrown into the water as the boat was underway. The man survived by clinging to the boat. The woman was separated from the craft and her body was found some way upstream.
  • MOB - In February a school rowing coach was lost overboard from the small coaching/rescue craft he was skippering on the tidal reach of the River Thames.
  • MOB - In May, a lady fell off a Broads-based hire boat that was either being moored or was already moored. Her husband jumped in to save her and despite getting her to the bank and a neighbour performing CPR, the lady died from drowning. The incident occurred mid-afternoon.
  • MOB - In May at 5pm, a lady fell off a hire cruiser at a Thames lock and was caught in by the propeller. She died as a result of her injuries. There were no witnesses who can report why she went overboard. Her fiancée was on the other side of the craft. We have no information as to the deck or hand rail arrangements of the boat at the point she fell overboard.
  • MOB - A 60‐year‐old man and another aged 32 were crewing a boat navigating a lock. The younger man, aged 32, climbed off the boat to release the lock. As the gates were opening the older man plunged into the water. The 32 year-old jumped into the water but couldn’t find the older man.
  • Personal Injury - Well‐respected local yachtsman, who was due to take part in an important local sailboat race. He was at a local Yacht club preparing his family’s boat. It is understood that while he was trying to lower the mast, it fell on him and he died as a result of his injuries.
  • CO - A boater was found dead aboard his small cruiser in the Autumn 2015. It was confirmed in February 2016 that his death was due to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. The inquest found that it was likely to be the running of the relatively small petrol outboard motor to charge electrical equipment.

Contributing to the BSS awareness of incidents is its increased participation in social media, particularly in the final quarter of the year. These informal routes to information have revealed more apparently non-injurious CO events. The BSS Office has not yet been able to quantify any trends, but believes it may provide a useful insight into incidents, knowledge and attitudes related to CO. This may be helpful concerning new entrants to boating and new liveaboards in particular. When combined with information from other sources, we may understand more about how boaters perceive CO risks and their mitigations.

The BSS has recorded five CO events including the fatal incident above. Details of the others:

  • A CO alarm was registering a moderate concentration of CO whenever the boat owner opened his stove door. The stove also had a poor draw. On examination he found his stove flue partially blocked with tar and soot.
  • In December liveaboard boaters were woken by their CO alarm shortly after retiring to bed. They had banked up the stove, but they were running it on ‘tick-over’. Opening all the windows and hatches silenced the alarm. Inspecting their roof ventilators, the boaters found the insect grills to be infested with thick matted spiders’ webs. Once cleaned and replaced, the alarm has not sounded again.
  • A new liveaboard on her partner’s boat was rescued unconscious from the craft. She had not been shown how to use the solid fuel stove. The flue design was not suitable for a solid fuel stove and on inspection, the chimney was found to be blocked. The stove had no draw and it wouldn't stay lit. Because of the poor running, she used it with the door open and went to bed. She was persuaded by fellow boaters to attend A&E and was treated for CO with oxygen.
  • In September, boaters were woken by a CO alarm to a cold boat. On investigation it appears that the boat had moved during the night and a fender had rolled over the exhaust for the central heating. So when the heating came on the exhaust could not escape. Eventually the boiler shut down because of the issue.

There have been around 34 incidents recorded for this period linked to hire craft. The brief details are listed in Annex A, Table A7. In addition to the two fatal incidents mentioned previously, some of the incidents on hire craft have caused serious injury incidents related to navigation or operational error.

Bridge strike incidents have featured strongly on waterways

  • A boy was injured when a hire boat skippered by his family was attempting to transit a lifting bridge. It appears that that the bridge had not been lifted and the vessels bow-starboard edge struck the bridge deck. The boy is believed to have suffered life-changing head and eye injuries in this incident. There were no witnesses to the incident other than the family. All the paperwork and training for hand over appears to have met expectations. The Bridge has been inspected by the navigation authority and no faults have been found however the inspector reported that a number of boaters struggled to navigate at the time of the incident because of strong winds.
  • On the Broads there have been several bridge strikes by hire craft and extensive discussions as to realistic risk mitigation measure that could be taken. However it is also worth noting that there was an attitude by some helmsman who, despite being aware of gauge board readings and the height of their vessel, would still attempt to navigate through.

 There were a number of serious fires and explosions in 2015.

  • In April, HM Coastguard asked a RNLI lifeboat to locate and assess a yacht at anchor. It was understood that the owner had been involved in an explosion aboard the vessel.   The lone yachtsman had managed to escape the vessel and row himself ashore, where he made his own way to hospital. The lifeboat arrived on scene to discover the windows and hatch blown out of the vessel. The RNLI described the explosion as 'pretty muscular'. The source of the gas may have been a camping equipment cartridge.
  • In May on an Anglian river, an explosion destroyed a diesel-engined cabin cruiser and damaged three others. A report suggest that owner may have accidently opened LPG cooker knob allowing LPG to build up in vessel and be ignited by the LPG refrigerator or a failure in the LPG system caused LPG to build up in the vessel and again be ignited by the flame of the LPG refrigerator. The craft had a very recent BSS Certificate.
  • A teenager was airlifted to hospital after suffering serious burns in a gas explosion while on board a boat in the Midlands. Two men and a woman also suffered burns in the explosion in October. On a weekday breakfast time at time of year, the site was much quieter than would be usual during summer weekends. There were four people on board the boat at the time of the explosion. The teenage boy suffered the most serious injuries with burns to his hands and face.

The following incidents are likely to be related to petrol as the ignited fuel, but it may be subject to confirmation in some incidents.

On a Midlands canal in February, the live-aboard owner of a small cabin cruiser was forced to leap overboard and his guest had a narrow escape when there was an explosion on the small cabin cruiser they were on went up in flames. The breakfast time incident resulted in the death of the man’s pet dog and the total loss of his home. The boat was already well alight when the two fire crews reached the site. A local newspaper quoted the fire officer in charge: “It appears the fire was caused when the owner had been refilling a generator aboard. The fumes and petrol had created a fireball. “The owner was forced to jump into the water while the other occupant was able to get off onto the footpath. “ Sadly the dog that was inside died.”

  • In July four people were taken to hospital and five boats went up in flames following an explosion when petrol fumes were ignited shortly after the craft was refuelled. The blaze then proceeded to spread to other boots moored at the site, leaving three completely destroyed by fire and two 50 per cent damaged.
  • Another petrol explosion incident involving family and friends occurred in early August. The reported circumstances concern a boat on a fuel stage at a marina, having around 13 litres of petrol put into its waste tank, before the error was realised. However with the knowledge that petrol was in the waste tank, the boat carried on its journey along the river without any further risk management measures being employed. The petrol vapour explosion occurred within half a mile of the fuel stage. Seven people were injured, these included major burns and cuts from flying debris. Four adults and two children were taken to hospital for treatment another adult was treated at the scene. Incident management involved three air ambulances.
  • In late August, firefighters were called to a boat fire on a canal in the North-West. The boat was well alight on the arrival of the crews and contained cylinders. All persons were accounted for. The craft was a 1974 Freeman with a petrol Watermota engine. The seat of the fire was in the fuel pump area. The BSS Certificate was issued in Feb 2012.
  • In September the manager of a marina on the Thames has told how he and others rallied together to help get a family off a burning boat. He was working on Sunday afternoon when he heard a scream so high-pitched he thought it was a whistle. He ran outside and saw a pleasure boat with six children and two adults on board with smoke pouring from the roof. He said: “The boat was coming across very slowly and the children were screaming. It was a case of ‘let’s get them off there and onto terra firma in case it explodes’.” The fire service manager said an engine malfunction appeared to have caused the fire. No one was injured, but the group was checked over by paramedics at the scene. The boat was returning to moorings when the incident happened.
  • In December, a liveaboard boater on a coastal mooring filled his oil lamps with petrol that then ignited and caused burns to his face and hands. He has now moved ashore and left the boat.

In 2015 petrol ignition incidents have indications of a lack of appreciation of the nature of petrol and petrol vapour. In response, the BSS Office developed a new petrol safety page for the stay-safe advice section of the BSS website. A supporting news release was issued by the BSS to help draw boater’s attention to the risks and help encourage safer behaviours. Navigation authorities re-distributed the BSS petrol safety messages and some utilised the top ten petrol safety tips flyer produced by the BSS.

There have been several multiple boat fire incidents so far this year. Seven incidents in which 17 boats have been affected.

Similarly, a review of generator safety prompted by the fatal CO incidents on the Oxford Canal (2014) and on Lake Windermere (2013) shows that in 24 incidents since 1992 linked to the use of portable generators, 10 people have been killed and another 10 received emergency hospital treatment. Coinciding with Electrical Fire Safety Week, the BSS Office has developed a new stay-safe webpage and have issued a news release highlighting the need to use portable generators correctly as specified in the instructions; to never make improvised adaptations and to avoid using and/or refuelling generators aboard boats. A table of incidents with brief details is attached to the news release which is published on the BSS website.

The end of 2015 and the start of the New Year has seen widespread and significant flood events in various parts of the UK. Dozens of boats have sunk or have been stranded in odd places once the waters receded. These events are not recorded in this BSS report.

Warnings to boaters were given by various organisations, and this may have helped reduce the numbers of boats affected as a result of high water levels and high winds. However given the severity and frequency of flash events, do the new-style storm system weather warnings from the Met Office offer navigation authorities and boating organisations a better opportunity for a co-ordinated approach to disseminating relevant advice.

Basic statistics from the records

BSS

Non-BSS

Coastal

Number of incidents recorded = 255 total in 2015

199

10

46

Fire/explosion (inc immediate risk of)

51

5

44

CO (including near incidents)

5

-

-

Pollution

2

 

 

Man Overboard

13

2

1**

Personal Injury

14

 

 

Capsize 6, collision 20, grounding 12, sinking 45, lock hang-up 14, stranding 21,

114

3

1

*vessels included in multi-vessel incidents

**MOB has relevance to inland boating (usually only fire & CO incidents are recorded)

 When accidental fire happens

BSS (41)

Non-BSS (4)

Coastal (36)

Moored / anchored / tethered

33

3

15

Approaching, traversing, departing Lock or Bridge

1

 

-

Underway/setting off

3

 

14

To Be Confirmed

3

1

2

Hard-standing / abandoned

1

 

5

Dry Dock/Construction

-

-

-

 

Use of vessels in all inland incidents

Note: Navigation = all other inc Capsize, Sinking, Grounding etc

BSS waters

Fire, CO & Pollution

(58)

BSS waters

‘MOB & Navigation’

(146)

Non-BSS inland

All incidents

(10)

Pleasure and leisure

24

71

3

Not recorded/not known

17

21

2

Intensive [residential and extended use)

13

16

2

Hire and passenger boat

1

34

2

Workboats / other commer cial

3

4

1

Brokerage / renovation / under repair

-

-

-

Abandoned

-

-

-

 

 Serious incidents on all inland waterways  [Note: Major injury = person treated at hospital)

Totals of boaters harmed

Fatalities (7)

Major injuries (25)

Explosion/fire, petrol, gas, fume ignition

-

13 people in five incidents

Carbon Monoxide

1x canal

1 residential boater

MOB/Capsize/collision

2x Thames tidal

1x canal

1x Thames hire boat

1x Broads hire boat

6 people in five incidents

Other personal injuries

1x Broads Hard-standing

5 people in five incidents slips, grounding, jolts and bridge crushing

           

All inland waters - Trends in systems & causes: All fire & CO

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

Totals

63

69

91

80

90

105

66

67

Deliberate Fire setting

11

12

11

11

25

27

17

29

Conflagration

11

3

3

5

5

5

7

0

Totals of accidental and original incidents

41

54

75

64

60

72

42

38

Bullseyes

-

0

0

0

1

2

0

0

Electrical [system / appliances]

7

8

15

15

17

8

10

7

Engine / engine room / exhaust

2

5

6

4

8

6

4

3

Flammable vapours (not yet identified)

4

3

3

2

3

2

0

0

Other domestic, galley, smoking, candles, etc

1

0

0

3

1

3

0

0

Gas escape / installed gas appliance

2

0

4

3

3

3

0

2

Not known [inconclusive / tbc to BSS]

15

27

28

21

13

23

11

8

Oil fired stoves and heaters [installed]

1

0

1

2

1

1

1

2

Other [inc machinery, welding, DIY, etc]

-

2

1

2

0

0

2

0

Petrol related – leaks, refuelling, etc

2

2

2

2

1

3

7

4

Portable engines / outboards / generators

-

2

2

0

1

5

0

4

Portable items [lpg, oil, BBQ, electric, etc]

-

0

2

0

4

2

2

4

Solid fuel stoves

7

5

13

10

7

15

5

4