A surfer died last month after being hit by a boat at Currumbin Alley at the southern end of the Gold Coast. Richard King’s death was “an accident waiting to happen," said the Acting Chief Lifeguard for Gold Coast City Council, Peter Miller. The area is popular with surfers and power boats going to sea from the Currumbin Creek.

Miller went on to say that there was very little that could be done to prevent the incident from occurring as surfers must paddle through the creek channel to access the surf break, and the Alley is a popular waterway with powered craft.

The hazardous conditions at Currumbin are not dissimilar to numerous other locations along Australia’s east coast, where personal watercraft (powered or wind driven), operate in close proximity to swimmers and surfers. Another such site is ‘The Pass’ at Byron Bay, where boats launched from Clarkes Beach access diving sites at Julian Rocks. Due to the popularity of this area as a surf location, it is prone to a higher risk of injury from power boats traveling through this surf breaks out to sea.

Boats at The Pass use a warning system before entering surf zones; the boat pauses outside the break, sounds the siren, and then passes through the surf zone with both parties in visual contact with one another. It is unclear as to whether such warning systems were in existence at the crowded Currumbin Alley at the time of the incident.

Shared Spaces

There will generally be a high inherent risk of injury in any space in which there are no clear demarcation zones between different watercraft, swimmers and surfers. Examples of such risks are evident from the following recent incidents:

  • A man was killed last year while jet skiing in the Brisbane River after colliding with a fishing boat that failed to give way to the water craft
  • A surfer died at Lyall Bay in New Zealand in 2009 after colliding with another surfer
  • In 2010, a Canberra man died at the Molonglo River after his jet ski collided with a ski boat at this busy location

Watercraft operators are reminded of distance off requirements between power boats and personal watercraft (such as surf boards), as set out under the relevant state maritime laws. Vessel masters in charge of powered watercraft must take extreme care and they (as well as board riders and skiers) must maintain a high level of vigilance in these shared locations.