GPS navigation blamed for midnight collision

Torrent Bay where the incident occurred
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Once again the potential for inaccuracy when solely depending on GPS-based equipment has been illustrated. Three sailors who were using GPS for night navigation were forced to abandon their boat when it hit rocks not far from Nelson on the South Island of New Zealand this week.

The yacht Okiana was crewed by the owner Hugh McCrae, his son and a friend. Mc Crae told rescuers that they 'thought they were in the middle of the bay using their GPS', but they weren't and hit the rocks. It was a dark night and there wasn't much moon.


Okiana wrecked after GPS fooled the crew into thinking they were in the middle of the entrance
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The yacht hit rocks near Pitt Head in Torrent Bay in the Abel Tasman National Park. They managed to get into inflatable boats after sending out a Mayday.

However, it was the sound that alerted local residents to the incident. They were lucky rescuers were at had, a Torrent Bay man who helped them ashore told The Dominion Post.

The trio on board the 12-metre Okiana were rescued at midnight on Sunday. Torrent Bay resident Chris Waide was watching the Australian Open tennis at a friend's place in Torrent Bay when he heard about the Okiana's mayday call. He used his work boat to get to the three men at Pitt Head.

'They were fairly distressed and quite disorientated. It was pitch black. There wasn't much of a moon. They would have wondered what the bloody hell happened,' he said.

Mr Waide said the men had grab-bags, a VHF radio and two inflatable boats. 'They had all the gear. They were definitely very well prepared. I picked up two, and another boat picked up one. We took them back to Torrent Bay and the local residents looked after them for the night.'

Mr Waide said the Okiana was lying on the reef and badly damaged. He said other boats had been written off after hitting rocks in the same place.

Mr Waide said Mr McCrae and his crew left Mana in Wellington a few days ago and were making their way to Fiordland. Torrent Bay was supposed to be a planned stopover, 'but they never quite made it'.

Mr Waide said they were 'three fairly unhappy boys', but it was lucky no-one was hurt. 'They're very lucky that it was this time of year and that there are a lot of people around. It could have been a lot worse.'

Torrent Bay resident Darryl Thomas also helped with the rescue. 'We were just sitting outside at about midnight, having a wee party, and we heard this bang. It was the flare going off,' he said.

Mr Thomas went inside, turned on his maritime radio, heard the Okiana's mayday call and went to help. 'By the time we got to them, they had two rubber boats and the captain, Hugh, was in one. His son and friend were in another one. They were probably bloody relieved to have us there.'

Mr Thomas said it was a 'clockwork rescue'. Back in Torrent Bay, he gave the men some dry clothes and 'a few drinks' and put them up 'next door.'

'We had them on shore pretty quick. I think they were really appreciative.' Mr Thomas said Mr McCrae was an experienced yachtie, who had bought the Okiana in July last year.

'Their aim was to go around Farewell Spit and carry on down the West Coast.'

Tasman District Council harbourmaster Steve Hainstock said the stricken boat was first thought to be a 15-metre launch. This was because Mr McCrae used an emergency beacon registered to that boat, which he also owned, rather than the Okiana. Mr McCrae was carrying both on board.

Maritime New Zealand spokesman Ross Henderson said carrying two emergency beacons was better than carrying no emergency communications at all.

He said boat owners needed to ensure that their beacons were registered with the Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand and that their emergency contact details were kept up to date.

They should also let their contacts know where they were going and what their trip plans were, he said.