Complacency on the water can have serious consequences - just ask 81-year old Bernard from Melbourne (name changed for privacy reasons).
In April 2015, Bernard was swimming offshore from Rye Beach in Port Phillip Bay, safely outside the designated Rye boat channel. But as he made his way back to shore, Bernard was struck by a massive force.
“Suddenly I felt a big impact on my right leg and there was blood all around me,” Bernard recalls.
He had been hit by the propeller of a speeding motorboat. The boat’s driver was not travelling inside the designated boat channel and had failed to maintain a proper lookout. As a result of the accident, Bernard’s leg was amputated.
Sadly, Bernard is among a number of Victorians who have been seriously injured on the water in the past few years - and the figures are on the rise.
Serious injuries on the rise
A spike in the number of serious maritime injuries in Victoria has now prompted Maurice Blackburn Lawyers to issue a safety reminder to recreational water users, particularly power boat drivers and jet skiers.
The calls come after six people were killed and 23 people seriously injured on Victorian waters between July 2016 and June 2017. The number of people seriously hurt has jumped 9.5 per cent compared with the average of the three preceding years, Maritime Safety Victoria statistics show.
For Bernard, it was a difficult road to recovery. He had been exceptionally fit for a man of his age at the time of his accident, being an avid runner and bike rider. He suddenly had to walk with the aid of a prosthesis: “In the beginning it was terrible,” he says. “I was in agony, it was very hard.”
But now Bernard wants to use his accident as a warning to others, reminding boat and jet ski users to slow down and keep a proper lookout when on the water this summer.
“They can be so dangerous, bouncing on the waves up and down, they can’t see what’s around them,” he said. “Often they are on the beach, drinking beer and wine, and then they go out at full speed.”
He advised swimmers to stay in the shallows, in areas where it was not deep enough for powerboats or jet skis to be used.
Jet skis and powerboat drivers in the spotlight
Of the 23 serious incidents recorded by Maritime Safety Victoria in 2016-17, 11 involved open type vessels and six involved personal watercrafts such as jet skis.
Maurice Blackburn public safety lawyer Dimi Ioannou said every summer people sadly suffer serious head, neck and leg injuries as a result of recreational boating incidents.
“People should be having fun in the water over summer, but we need to remember jet skis and speedboats are powerful and potentially dangerous water vehicles,” she said.
For several years Ms Ioannou has advocated for mandatory insurance on jet skis, which would ensure people injured by such vehicles could access compensation.
“Without adequate insurance cover, people injured by or on a jet ski could be left hundreds or thousands of dollars out of pocket if there is no insurance.”