Airboat incident highlights the importance of risk assessment

Location of collision

An incident where a tourism operator’s airboat struck a tree during a ‘hot lap’ as part of a wetlands tour, resulting in minor injuries to passengers and the driver, emphasises the importance of risk assessments and safety management systems, a new ATSB reports says.

The airboat Gale Force, with a driver and four passengers onboard, was operating a ‘hot lap’ as part of a wetlands tour of Sweets Lagoon, about 55 km south-west of Darwin, on 22 June 2019.

A few minutes into the tour, the airboat was at speed when the track into a turn to starboard was slightly misjudged and control was lost. The airboat’s stern swung to port and left the channel. The starboard aft corner of the airboat swung round and struck a tree a few metres from the water’s edge.

The impact threw the occupants backwards and then, as momentum swung the bow round, they were propelled forward, out of their seats. The skipper was injured and dazed from being thrown against the airboat side cage. The passengers sustained varying degrees of injury, including cuts and bruising, depending on where they were seated.

The ATSB investigation into the incident identified that operational limitations, such as speed, which would have reduced the likelihood of the collision and resultant injuries, were not fully identified by the operator’s risk assessments and therefore unable to be implemented through their safety management system following a shift in the operator’s focus away from ‘adrenaline‑based’ activity such as ‘hot laps’. 

“Tourism operators who undertake activities such as airboating that involve fare-paying passengers should carefully and regularly assess their operations for risk,” said ATSB Director Transport Safety Stuart Macleod.

“In this instance, operational limitations which would have reduced the likelihood of the collision and reduced the injury consequences had not been fully identified and implemented.”

Since the incident the airboat operator has updated its safety management system’s procedures and requirements. Specific airboat training, guidance and competency requirements have been implemented, and emergency procedures have been updated.

Read the investigation report MO-2019-007: Collision with a tree involving the airboat Gale Force, Sweets Lagoon, Northern Territory, on 22 June 2019

Last update 26 June 2020

Final report

MO-2019-007: Collision with a tree involving the airboat Gale Force, Sweets Lagoon, Northern Territory, on 22 June 2019