Two separate fatal accidents at a recent powerboat racing competition in Taree, New South Wales, have highlighted the inherent dangers of high-risk sporting activities, and the need to manage this increased risk. The accidents occurred when the speedboats flipped while travelling at 200km/h. Rescuers reached the drivers within seconds, however they could not be revived. A police investigation is underway; it will look at whether there were mechanical faults, as well as whether sufficient risk assessment was undertaken before the event.
According to website ‘powerboat-world.com,' about 30 professional powerboat racers have died in competition over the past 50 years, worldwide. However, due to improved risk management, this number has been steadily declining.
For events such as powerboat racing, a detailed risk management plan should be developed, that sets out water conditions for acceptable and safe racing, and to have clear protocols for event cancellation, on an occasion of conditions being unsafe.
A risk assessment should consider the physical environment which may cause harm to a competitor as part of the risk management plan. For example, in a 1986 race in Bristol, a competitor was killed when his boat crashed into an unused ferry jetty. In this case, the event organising committee blamed the city council for not removing the redundant jetty, however in Australia it is reasonable to expect that it is the duty of event organisers to ensure the environment is as safe as possible.
Emergency - medical response
Event organisers also need to ensure all safety and emergency procedures are well-documented and well-known. For example, if a dangerous crash has occurred, how will competitors immediately be warned to stop racing? How will rescue teams ensure they reach the accident in as little time as possible? In a Dubai race in 2009, two racers were killed in a crash when their boats were thrown into the water. Event organisers were blamed because rescuers took more than a minute-and-a-half to reach the drivers. A thorough risk management plan should ensure controls are in place to prevent such things from happening.
It is vital that risk management in sports such as powerboat racing considers how to mitigate the risks associated with equipment failure.
The World Professional Powerboating Association (WPPA) regulates the construction of powerboats. Safety precautions include crews carrying oxygen in case of boats rolling over, as well as escape hatches built in.
However, in an interview with Abu Dhabi's national newspaper, the owner of racing team "Maritimo", Bill Barry-Cotter, says that there has been a scaling down of regulations by the WPPA.
"What that meant is that you could shift 40kg from the top of the cockpit to the bottom, and the boat is unbeatable, but then you take all the integrity out of it."