Injured diver calls for tougher skipper ticket

Geoff Beacroft recovers at home after his three-week stint in hospital.

MEDICAL experts warned 10 years ago that WA would face more boating accidents like one that recently cost local free diver Geoff Beacroft one of his fingers. 

Mr Beacroft was diving in Cockburn Sound with close friend Ron Pitcher on March 26 at around 8.30am. After 30 minutes in the water a speedboat ran him over, severing three fingers of his right hand, breaking one of his legs and leaving him with deep lacerations and a three-week stay at Royal Perth Hospital.

The skipper of the vessel claimed not to have seen the blue and white “diver-down” flag attached to Mr Beacroft, despite relatively calm conditions. 

There were a half-dozen boats off Woodman Point while the pair were diving, and Mr Beacroft says at least one other had a diving flag in the water at the same time.

Traumatic

Mr Beacroft, who had two of his fingers re-attached during six bouts of surgery, reckons the skipper was going too fast and too close to the diving boats.

It highlighted need for improved safety awareness on the water as the number of new skippers and vessels had increased significantly since early 2020 when Covid-19 scuttled all overseas travel plans. 

A decade ago, a report in the Medical Journal of Australia highlighted the traumatic injuries from boating and small watercraft activities, the authors arguing for more awareness campaigns about the risks and a need for safer products on the market, including propeller guards.

 “There has been little progress in the design of safety features for power boats in recent years,” the article noted.

“[Propeller guards] are still a relatively unknown idea in Australia, and some retailers suggest that uptake may not be universal among new boat owners.” They cite concerns from a local retailer that the loss of speed would be a deterrent.

“Currently, there is little coverage of this issue in the Australian literature.”

Messrs Beacroft and Pitcher have been free diving together for 43 years, and both have had close calls in the past. Several close friends in the WA Undersea Club have also been injured. 

They say maritime safety in Perth waters needs overhauling and want more training and refresher courses before a recreational skipper’s ticket is issued.  They say many skippers “don’t recognise the diver down flag”. 

They also want restrictions over the size of boats that new skippers can operate.

“It is far too easy to get an RST,” Mr Beacroft said, adding it took almost no experience and the test only took 40 minutes. He reckons there are near misses on “just about every dive”. 

Safety

He said following his dreadful experience, he wanted to make it is his life mission to improve waterway safety.

Mr Pitcher has also questioned the colours of the diver-down flag, saying its white and blue swallowtail burgee might not stand out enough against blue water.

As scuba diving emerged as a recreational past time in the 1950s, Michigan dive store owner Denzel Dockery invented a red flag with a white stripe as a warning for other boaters. It’s popularity took off and the design even made its way down under where it was adopted for a while by NSW.

But the British ministry of transport had other ideas, declaring the antipodeans had to adopt two flags (representing the letters D and H in the nautical flag system) because they were already known internationally.

But just to be sure, they also recommended the American design also be attached to a float nearby.

The whole situation was confusing, but it lasted almost a decade until the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organisation adopted a new International Code of Signals in 1969 with the now familiar blue and white design of Flag A.

The Herald contacted the Department of Transport’s marine division for a response.

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