Accidental gybe on cruiser racing yacht Buccaneer of Upnor with loss of 1 life

Location: 2.5 miles south-west of St Alban's Head, England.

Completed PE Summary: Buccaneer of Upnor

A short summary of the accident and action taken:

Vessel name | | Buccaneer of Upnor |
Manager: | | Royal Engineer Yacht Club |
Type: | | Elan 333 - Bermudan Sloop |
Built: | | Slovenia - 2004 |
Construction: | | GRP |
Length overall: | | 10 metres |
Date & Time | | 22 August 2007 - 1315 UTC |
Location of incident: | | Coastal waters at 50º33.6N, 002º07.1W |
Incident Type: | | Accident to Person |
Persons onboard: | | 6 |
Injuries/fatalities: | | One fatal injury |


(all times are UTC)

At approximately 1315 on 22 August 2007 Buccaneer of Upnor experienced an inadvertent gybe while 2.5 miles south-west of St Alban’s Head.  During the gybe the mainsheets pushed the mate onto the edge of the coachroof causing fatal injuries.       

A Local Associate Member of the Royal Engineer Yacht Club arranged to sail the cruiser-racing yacht Buccaneer of Upnor from Plymouth to Gosport during the period 18 to 24 August 2007.  The skipper, who held a Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Day Skipper’s sailing qualification, had 14 years sailing experience.  The mate also had a good deal of experience coupled with an RYA Competent Crew certificate.  The other crew had very little sailing experience.

The skipper planned the day sail passage with overnight stops at the River Yealm, Salcombe, Dartmouth, Weymouth and Poole before arriving at Gosport.  The plan involved a partial crew change at Weymouth.  Before leaving Plymouth the skipper gave the crew a comprehensive safety briefing and outlined the passage plan.  The weather forecast up to Weymouth was for a northerly, force 5-6 wind. 

The early part of the trip was uneventful and the boat arrived, as planned, at Weymouth at 1800 on 21 August.  On arrival, three crew members left the boat and two replacement crew members joined and were given a full safety briefing. 

The weather forecast for the 22 August was for a northerly, force 5-6 wind, gusting 7, and as the boat motor sailed out of Weymouth Harbour it experienced strong gusts.  By 1140 the boat was sailing on a close reach with 2 reefs in the mainsail and the No1 jib rigged.  The skipper had supervised the inexperienced helmsman for about an hour and gave him a point to steer to clear St Alban’s Head. The helmsman experienced difficulty in keeping the boat on the course, and the mate had to frequently “spill” wind from the overpowered sail by slackening the mainsheets.

At approximately 1310, when about 2.5 miles south-west of St Alban’s Head, the skipper needed to go below.  She instructed the helmsman to steer a little further off the headland onto what she considered to be a safer beam reach.  The skipper and mate appeared to have had an understanding between them that when one was down below, the other was in charge on deck, although no specific instruction to that effect was given by the skipper.

A few minutes after the skipper went below, the yacht was hit by a strong gust that caused it to broach to windward.  The helm was put hard over to starboard to counteract this until it was on full-lock, although the rudder was still stalling.  After a short time the gust subsided, but, with the helm still hard over the yacht quickly came round to starboard and continued into a rapid and uncontrolled gybe.  As the boom swung quickly to port, the mainsheets caught the mate, who was sitting in the cockpit just aft of the traveller, and threw him forward against the edge of the coachroof, causing fatal injuries. 

The skipper immediately returned to the deck.  After stabilising the situation, and administering first aid, she raised a Mayday on the VHF radio.  The mate was evacuated to hospital by a Coastguard helicopter but never regained consciousness.  He died the following day.


Action taken

The Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents has written to the skipper of Buccaneer of Upnor advising of the need to:

  • Comprehensively assess the capabilities of each crew member to competently undertake specific tasks in the prevailing weather conditions, particularly when the skipper is absent from the deck.
  • Ensure that when transferring temporary charge of the deck and navigation that the passage plan is properly understood and adequate precautions are taken to supervise inexperienced crew and maintain overall control of the deck.

In 2006 the MAIB investigated 2 gybing accidents on board Roaring Meg of Cowes which resulted in a number of recommendations.  These included alerting training organisations and yachtsmen to the dangers of inadvertent gybes.  Further advice was given in the MAIB’s 2/2006 Safety Bulletin – “Gybing on yachts – two separate accidents resulting in life threatening injuries to crew members”. 



Published 23 January 2015