Disappearance and rescue of small fishing vessel Water-rail

Location: Found approximately 44nm offshore in the North Sea off Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Accident Investigation Report 3/2015

Investigation report into marine accident including what happened, safety lessons and recommendations made:

MAIB investigation report 3-2015: Water-rail

Photograph of fishing vessel Water-rail


On 20 May 2014 the small fishing vessel Water-rail disappeared. It set out from Gourdon Harbour, Aberdeenshire early that morning; however, soon after departure, the skipper was completely lost in fog. When the boat did not return as expected, the alarm was raised and an extensive search commenced, but after 2 days nothing had been found and the men’s family was informed that the boat and crew had probably been lost at sea. However, on the morning of 22 May 2014, Water-rail was found and the crew rescued by the deep-sea trawler, Sylvia Bowers.

Our investigation found that the skipper of Water-rail did not have the equipment or competence necessary to navigate his vessel safely in the prevailing conditions and was also unable to broadcast a distress message as there was no electronic means of communication on board.

Safety lessons

  • the importance of preparing for every voyage, particularly understanding the limitations of the vessel and crew as well as taking marine weather forecasts into account

  • ensuring carriage of appropriate safety equipment, in particular, the ability to broadcast distress


The owner/skipper of Water-rail is recommended to improve the safe operation of any similar vessel he may own in the future by;

  • attending a navigation training course

  • ensuring that safety equipment is carried and crew are trained in accordance with MSN 1813(F), the MCA Code of Practice for the Safety of Small Fishing Vessels

  • applying additional safety measures recommended in MGN 502(F), the updated Code of Practice, specifically: carriage of an EPIRB/PLB and DSC VHF radio as well as wearing of PFDs on deck.

Published 29 January 2015