New licensing system planned after boat foundered on Loch Lomond

Accident investigators found there was ‘no effective oversight of small commercial passenger vessels on Loch Lomond’, a report has revealed.

The Vixen being salvaged
The Vixen being salvaged. (Crown copyright)

A new licensing regime for small boats throughout Argyll and Bute now looks set to be introduced following an incident where a vessel with six passengers foundered.

But other councils covering the loch have yet to introduce similar legislation, despite investigators’ recommendations.

A Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB) report states that the boat had left Ardleish jetty for Ardlui Marina in September 2012 when it started to sink.

The report states that there were no injuries or pollution, but adds: “Five of the six passengers donned lifejackets and jumped out of the boat.

“One passenger, who was a weak swimmer, was not provided with a lifejacket; she and the skipper remained on board as the boat sank beneath them.

“They were dragged underwater, but managed to swim back to the surface. Some of the passengers swam ashore; the remainder, and the skipper, were quickly rescued by a member of the public who was in another boat nearby.”

The boat had not been licensed with Argyll and Bute Council and investigators found several safety issues which contributed to the accident:

  • The weed hatch cover at the stern was in poor condition and was almost certainly the source of the flooding
  • The effective freeboard around the weed hatch was reduced by the fact that all the passengers were sitting at the stern
  • The Inland Waters Code does not have statutory effect but it is the most relevant safety standard for small passenger vessels operating in Loch Lomond. Vixen did not meet the code’s requirements and, because it had insufficient freeboard, was effectively overloaded when carrying six passengers and their rucksacks.
  • With no regulatory oversight to enforce a minimum standard, ‘the owners maintained ‘Vixen’ to their own requirements’. This accident demonstrated that these standards were insufficient for the safe operation of a commercial ferry; and
  • The boat’s owners had not ensured that the safety critical systems on board were understood and correctly operated by the skippers, that the systems were maintained effectively, or when appropriate or that details of known equipment defects were circulated to the duty skipper.

The MAIB recommended councils to introduce boat hire licensing regimes, and since then Argyll and Bute officials have held talks with their Stirling and West Dunbartonshire counterparts.

A report to tomorrow’s (Wednesday’s) meeting of the planning, protective services and licensing committee states: “This has been a constructive but challenging project and although significant progress has been made, neither West Dunbartonshire nor Stirling councils have as yet introduced their own licensing scheme.

“Despite these circumstances, and acknowledging the public safety issues raised by the report, it is proposed that Argyll and Bute Council should introduce enhanced licence conditions for boat hire, rather than defer this action any further.”

The full MAIB report into the incident is here (5.7MB PDF): VixenReport

Other issues with the boat are highlighted in the photographs (Crown copyright):

1 Comment

  1. Slightly amazed that the park authority don’t deal with this given it would mean one set of rules for the whole loch, and also amazed that there are commercial boats operating in 2015 that don’t have comply with MCA commercial coding; it’s just as easy to drown in fresh water as salt.

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