Skipper offers words of advice

The skipper of a boat which overturned in the Foveaux Strait, resulting in the death of his son and friend, said all he needed was one working form of communication once in the water and they would both still be alive.

•  Pair succumbed to cold water

Barry Bethune was skipper and owner of Extreme 1 which overturned about 2km west of White Island on January 3 after a large wave struck the rear of the 7.2m aluminium catamaran. The boat was equipped with a VHF radio, Epirb (emergency position indicating radio beacon) and flares.

On board were Mr Bethune, his son Shaun Bethune and friends Lindsay Cullen, Carol Saxton and Denise Zonneveld, some of whom also had personal cellphones.

After the boat overturned, Barry Bethune accounted for all his passengers - all wearing life jackets - and attempted to dive under the boat to recover the Epirb, hanging by a lanyard from the throttle.

Otago-Southland coroner David Crerar said in his formal written findings, released on Friday but embargoed until today, that despite several attempts Barry Bethune was unable to regain access to the cabin of the boat.

Shaun David Bethune (23) of Ryal Bush, and and Lindsay James Cullen (59), of Brydon, both died on January 3 near Ruapuke on Foveaux Strait.

Mr Crerar said a toxicological analysis on both men showed traces of cannabis and while it was impossible to judge how the effects of cannabis had contributed to, or resulted in, their deaths, he said it was ''unlikely that the consumption of cannabis enhanced the survival chances'', he said.

Mr Crerar said Barry Bethune ensured Extreme 1 carried the appropriate equipment for the journey. The boat was fully fuelled; he had given a return check-in time with a responsible person onshore; he had made certain all his passengers wore life jackets and he was experienced in the area.

He did not record his journey with Bluff Maritime Radio, considering the service was ''probably only for the use of those who subscribed to the service and he had not enrolled with them''.

He had ordered a portable waterproof VHF radio which was to be delivered to him later,

but was not available on the evening of January 3.

''Barry Bethune had an Epirb which, if he had it with him when he left the boat, could have been used to call for immediate assistance.

''Unfortunately, due to the Epirb being uncomfortable to wear or carry, this was trapped in Extreme 1 ...''

A boat master course he had completed educated boat users to ensure ''at least two'' methods of communication were available.

''A cellphone in a waterproof bag ... or an Epirb attached or zipped into a lifejacket, would have made the necessary difference between death and survival,'' Mr Crerar said.

In a letter to Maritime New Zealand, Mr Bethune said he had been boating for 30 years with some commercial sea time, and ''took being a skipper seriously''.

''Life jackets were always worn and up-to-date with safety gear on board [with an Epirb, cellphone and VHF radio in arm's reach].

''I had a big, solid, well-serviced boat and was prepared for any emergency that could possibly happen, or so I thought.

''In the blink of an eye, we were upside down, in a submerged boat, swimming for our lives.

''Don't think 'It won't happen to me', because it can happen to anyone. Prepare for the worst.

''Have your communication equipment on you at all times, get a life jacket with pockets for an Epirb (or PLB) [personal locator beacon] and waterproof VHF radio, or get pockets sewn on your old one.''

Mr Bethune said all he needed was one form of working communication once they were in the water.

''After four hours of swimming for our lives, I had to check my son's and my mate's bodies for signs of life, make the decision to leave them there, to carry on and maybe, if lucky, save myself and two more friends' lives.

''Not a day goes by without thinking about my son and mate and my wishing they were still here.''