MAIB report released on Milligan accident in the UK

Nicholas Milligan's Boat / RIB

Nicholas Milligan’s Boat / RIB

Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) in the UK issued their investigative report on the May 5, 2013 Nicholas Milligan family boat propeller accident at Padstow Harbor today (30 January 2014).

We previously covered the accident at: Nicholas Milligan Boat Propeller Accident at Padstow UK. His family was out for day of fun on the RIB. They were all ejected, the boat began to circle and some of them were struck repeatedly by the propeller. Nicholas and one of his daughters (Emily) were killed. His wife and his son were severely injured (she lost her left leg below the knee). Two daughters had minor injuries and were terrified.

MAIB reports the family was out for its first trip of the summer in their 8 meter RIB, Milly in the Camel Estuary.

At first, Mr. Milligan had the kill cord connected to his leg. They stopped at Padstow for lunch. Soon after they left, Mrs. Milligan took over the operation of the boat. She probably did not attach the kill cord because she thought she was just going to take the boat back at moderate speed to where they moored the boat. Nicholas suggest they go out for one more pass of the estuary. Mrs. Milligan began a broad slow turn to go back out, Nicholas reached across his wife, took the steering wheel in his right hand and the throttle in his left hand. He increased the throttle and turned more sharply to starboard. Some think he did this to make sure they completed the turn before they hit the beach.

“The boat immediately accelerated and heeled into the turn and then suddenly and violently, rolled back to port and ejected all its occupants over the port side and into the water.”

“The family were on the surface of the water, supported by their lifejackets and buoyancy aids, and the boat circled toward them, striking several of them.”

MAIB did some trials with the boat from APV Marine powered by a 300 horsepower Yamaha outboard and found it had some problems (undesirable handling characteristics) in certain circumstances, but concluded the fatalities resulted from the operator not wearing the kill cord.

MAIB reports they have identified 21 accidents since 2005 in which small high speed boats have circled because the kill cord was not attached. Those accidents resulted in 7 fatalities and 12 injuries.

The Milligan family issued a statement saying they are still trying to come to terms with the loss of Nick and Emily. Then said, “We sincerely hope that awareness of this accident will mean that another family does not have to go though anything similar.”

We wish the family peace and comfort as they press on, and appreciate their comments about hoping this accident prevents others from going through the same.

However, here in the U.S. we have seen what seems like countless similar statements from families hoping others to do not have to go through their pain and grief, but as long as the hazards remain, people will be injured and killed.

We would like to thank the many UK media outlets that covered the release of the MAIB report. The more people read about hazards on the water, the more safety precautions they will take for a while.

Thanks to:

  • The Guardian
  • BBC
  • Daily Record
  • Express
  • Motorboat and Yachting
  • Daily Mirror
  • Daily Mail
  • New Tang Dynasty Television
  • The Herald
  • This is Cornwall
  • The Times
  • Western Morning News

Interestingly, we saw no coverage from Sky News, at where Nichols Milligan was an executive.

An inquest into the death of the Milligans was opened in May 2013, then closed for further investigations. We anticipate the inquest will reconvene with MAIBs findings in the not too distant future.

One comment at the moment, – MAIB and RYA (Royal Yachting Association) are all over the kill cord issue. We absolutely agree, the use of kill cords is vitally important to reduce future events such as this one. However, so far we have seen no mention of some other alternatives that could also have helped prevent this accident.

On the hardware side: the use of virtual lanyards that can kill the boat when the operator is ejected (Virtual Lifeline and Autotether are examples). No mention of propeller guards (it was a Yamaha outboard and Yamaha UK was telling the world how great their propeller guards that fit all Yamaha models were about a year in front of this accident.)

We were a bystander in a RYA conversation in which RYA did not want to introduce other alternatives into the conversations. They think a single message focused on kill cords is more effective than a diluted message pointing to some other possible devices. While their point has some merit, it does not do justice to the other devices and does not bring those options into the thought process of boaters trying to avoid such accidents.

We previously encouraged development of systems to detect the boat was unmanned and circling, then stopping the engine. See our Circle of Death Propeller Accident Invention page.

Training, licensing, and behavioral changes are among the non-equipment steps that could be taken.

Mandatory reporting of accidents meeting certain criteria similar to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Accident Report Database (BARD) would allow intelligence to be gathered much faster on similar accidents and problems to be identified much faster.

We have seen reports of many people ejected being ejected, then ran over by the circling boat because they could not dive because they were wearing their life jacket / PFD. We certainly fully encourage wearing of life jackets and PFDs while on the water, but think the frequency of them contributing to prop accidents needs some discussion to lead to developments to help prevent this in the future.

We will post an in-depth review of MAIB’s findings after we have some time to study them in detail.

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