Rental boats are causing chaos on Melbourne’s Yarra River, and rowers have had enough of it.
They are calling for changes and oversight into rental boats, fed up with renters’ blatant disregard for river safety rules that is putting other users – especially young rowers – at risk.
Their frustration has boiled over after a video of a GoBoat capsizing a sculler on the iconic Melbourne waterway sparked a heated debate about the responsibilities of boat users.
The video, shared by Paul Dowsley, shows the GoBoat with three women on board crossing the path of a sculler, who has his oars in the water seemingly in a bid to slow his craft and avoid impact.
When he realises it is too late, he attempts to pull his right scull from the water, but it appears to catches under the boat and starts to tip toward it.
He eventually ends up in the water behind the boat – missing the GoBoat’s rear propeller as he does – as the trio in the boat carry on (merrily, merrily) down the Yarra.
When the post was shared to social media, Melburnians were quick to lash the “dangerous” and “disgraceful” boating.
“The three people in the boat barely even cared which shows the kind of people they are,” one person wrote.
“Apparently boat licences are available in Cornflakes boxes now,” another wrote.
A number of people likened the incident to “a hit and run”.
But Melbourne rowers from clubs along the iconic river told news.com.au this collision was a pretty minor knock in an ongoing series of dangerous “crunches” with rental boats on the Yarra.
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Banks Rowing Club committee member – and Victorian representative scull rower – Antonietta Di Cosmo said close calls with these boats are a “regular occurrence”.
“We’ve only ever had incidents because of these boats,” she said.
“The skipper will be drinking or doing doughnuts in the middle of the river. They leave alcohol bottles, litter everywhere, there’s no rules or regulation.”
Ms Di Cosmo said GoBoats, like the many other rental boats that use the Yarra, do not require drivers to carry a boat licence – which is a major selling point of the brand’s “Be Your Own Captain” marketing.
“The safety argument is because they’re speed-capped, they’re fine,” she added.
“[Renters are] given a map, but they don’t explain the river rules – that you have to stay to the right of the river, and because [GoBoats are] so slow they need to be right on the edge.”
But, she said, “none of that is passed on to GoBoat’s customers”.
“It’s the equivalent of giving someone without a licence a go kart and putting them on a freeway and letting them go.”
Despite one the GoBoat Australia website promising “safety assured”, the boats have become infamous for causing trouble on the Yarra – including impeding ferries’ movement.
GoBoat’s Terms and Conditions stipulate customers must be “suitably instructed of the safe and proper use of the boat”, have signed an “Agreement” and participated in safety briefing before they take to the water.
But Melbourne Rowing Club social secretary Zoe Ryan said she thinks customers’ safety instructions are “pretty loose”.
“I personally have been followed and recorded and stupid stuff yelled out to my crew and I while we’re rowing,” Ms Ryan said.
“People in these GoBoats obviously think it’s funny to chase and accost rowers and harass them, which is pretty poor behaviour.”
She said groups of GoBoat renters are “often … boisterous and obviously inebriated”, and that even the sober renters seem “oblivious” to how rowing boats work – in that they can’t change course suddenly.
“The Yarra in the city is a hive of rowing activity, and we do try to avoid the times when go boats are on the water, because they are a true menace.”
“The City of Melbourne has a lot to answer for in allowing these pleasure craft on a water way that is heavy with non-powered vessels … that seemingly does not need any kind of licensing or monitoring,” Ms Ryan concluded.
Ms Di Cosmo agreed, saying part of her frustrations was that GoBoat users have “no regard for the general use of the river”.
news.com.au approached GoBoat Australia for comment on this incident, and its boat safetybriefing for customers.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the company said its “number one priority is the safety and care of our customers and those who we share the waterways with”.
“We immediately followed up the matter (in the video) with marine authorities after being made aware of the video, but to date have not been made aware of the incident by any of the impacted parties,” they said.
The spokesperson said it has “extensive safety procedures and protocols in place” for customers, including going through a “thorough briefing” before they take to the water.
“These briefings include instructions on how to operate the vehicle, navigate other watercraft and what to do in the extremely rare occurrence of an incident.”