March 10 - 16, 2019: Issue 396


Palm Beach Ferry Runs Aground at Half Tide Rocks, brisbane water

Volunteer crews from three Marine Rescue NSW units responded to a Palm Beach ferry that had run aground at Half Tide Rocks at the entrance to Brisbane Water, at 6.50 p.m. on Saturday night, March 9th. The ferry service was on its last run back from Ettalong to Palm Beach.

Rescue vessels Cottage Point 31, Broken Bay 20 and Central Coast 30 were deployed and assisted passengers, ferry staff and Police on the scene.

One hour later a MRNSW Update stated: 

'The ferry that earlier ran aground at Half Tide Rocks at the entrance to Brisbane Water is now safely on an emergency mooring and all Marine Rescue NSW vessels have been stood down.

Thirty ferry passengers were safely transferred to shore before NSW Police vessel WP 42 and MRNSW vessel Cottage Point 31 relocated the vessel.

Cottage Point 31 was able to secure a tow line to the ferry's bow and with all passengers removed and a solid 3 knot current, tow the large vessel to deeper water.

All three crews from Marine Rescue Cottage Point, Broken Bay and Central Coast are returning to their bases.'

MR NSW posted; 'Thanks to all our volunteers who responded, particularly the crew members from Broken Bay and Cottage Point, who have been on the water since 5.30-6.00 a.m. to take part in the joint NSW Rural Fire Service - MRNSW training exercise on the Hawkesbury River.'

Late last year the Palm Beach to Ettalong and return service recommenced after a break, the operators posting on their website:

Ferry Services Return to Ettalong!

Fantasea Cruising is pleased to announce that we will be resuming our normal service from Palm Beach to Wagstaffe and Ettalong from Monday 19th of November 2018.

The Ettalong channel has been dredged to permit us safe access in most conditions, though we will continue to assess the area whilst operating. As always, the service will be weather dependant, but we hope to have less disruptions than what were experienced in the past.

The restoration of the service came after a dredge arrived on July 25th, 2018, which, then, was going to take around five weeks to complete works, and was followed by a September 2018 NSW Roads & Maritime announcement that up to $2.45 million will go towards an expanded dredging program in the entrance channel to Brisbane Water.

The NSW Government was contributing $1.225 million, through the Rescuing Our Waterways program, towards a new long-term solution for Ettalong Channel, which will be overseen by Central Coast Council.

Under the Rescuing Our Waterways program, councils apply for funding to assist with dredging projects on a matching dollar-for-dollar basis with the NSW Government.

The new phase of dredging was to see 80,000 cubic metres of sand from the navigation channel removed, with the intention to relocate it to the nearshore areas of Ettalong, Ocean and Umina Beaches.

The project was focused on keeping Ettalong and Box Head Channels open and navigable, and reducing sand from re-entering the waterways.

The emergency dredging program involved removal of about 10,000 cubic metres of sand to provide a channel of 30 metres width and 2.5 metres depth. A further 10,000 cubic metres was to be removed to widen the entrance opening in an effort to slow the movement of sand back into the navigational channel.

On November 19th, 2018 the Central Coast Council Mayor Jane Smith said that through a cooperative relationship, the dredging will continue beyond the initial emergency dredging.

“The NSW Government will continue the dredging operations currently underway as part of the emergency works using Rescuing Our Waterways funding,” Mayor Smith said.

“Of the grant funding announced in September, it is proposed to spend up to $1M this financial year, so we can get on with the longer-term dredging program as that is what the community want to see.

“This will ensure the program continues beyond the emergency works and avoid additional mobilisation costs for Council. Local beaches will also benefit with approximately 20,000 cubic metres of sand dredged from Ettalong Channel to be placed on the Ocean Beach and Umina Beach areas.

“This will also help repair erosion that has occurred on these beaches in recent years and improve beach amenity.”

“We are committed to continue to work towards a long-term solution in the best interests of our community,” Mayor Smith said.

The channel past Half Tide Rocks around Wagstaffe Point across to Ettalong Wharf has become unnavigable to ferries in the past. The dredging works undertaken last year follow on from similar works that were carried out in the same channel in 2013

On July 27th 2017 another Palm Beach Ferry ran aground at Box Head at 5:45 in the morning.

"The channel at Box Head is extremely shallow and deemed unsafe for crossing, to avoid further groundings Fantasea Cruising (Palm Beach Ferries) will be diverting services to Patonga for the next two days," the carrier said in a statement.

Fantasea Ferries said the boat had run aground after powerful surf dislodged significant amounts of sand over the preceding days.

Then, the man at the helm of a ferry that ran aground in the Ettalong Channel was being investigated by NSW Roads and Maritime Services, according to Member for Gosford Ms Liesl Tesch.

“This incident occurred only two weeks after the first round of emergency dredging was undertaken at the site,” Ms Tesch said. 

“If the NSW Government and RMS try to peg this failing on the driver when it’s likely to be due to the failure of the inadequate dredging, then that is a low act,” Ms Tesch said.

Ms Tesch said she wrote to the then Minister for Planning, Mr Paul Toole, and the then Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast, Mr Scot MacDonald to raise her concerns about the inadequate response from the Liberal Government. “It is unacceptable for the NSW Government to provide just $150,000 in funding, which was clearly not enough to do an appropriate job, and then walk away,” she said. “The NSW Government needs to urgently invest in a long term solution to this problem.

“If the government is willing to put $10 million over four years to fund dredging on the North Coast, then they can’t keep saying it’s a local government issue only. “We have a new Council and the NSW Liberal Government needs to come back to the table and negotiate in good faith to get this issue sorted.”

Ms Tesch thanked Fantasea Cruises and their staff for their flexibility during the disruptions, commending them for keeping commuters and tourists on the move despite the regular diversions to Patonga. The situation created an atmosphere of uncertainty in the local area with businesses, commuters and tourists fearing for the future of the waterway, she said. 

“If suitable dredging is not carried out immediately, incidents like this will become commonplace.” Ms Tesch said.

“The Government cannot ignore the adverse effect this issue is having on the day-to-day lives, and livelihoods, of ferry operators, commuters, tourists and commercial fisherman who rely on this crucial waterway,” Ms Tesch said. “If the channel remains in its current state, there is a very serious risk of harm to recreational and commercial vessels as well as the potential for irrevocable damage to the confidence of local operators. “We need to work to promote our strong tourism industry and ensure there are no barriers to businesses that rely on the channel to operate.” *

The NSW Government announced an additional $160,000 in emergency dredging the day after Ms Tesch’s statements and followed that with the Rescuing Our Waterways funding.

Tropical Cyclone Oma's waves reaching Sydney meant the Palm Beach-Wagstaffe-Ettalong ferry services were diverted for the runs of Saturday February 23rd and Sunday 24th 2019 as the operators responded to unsafe sea conditions at Box Head for the Bar crossing.

These storm tides may well have caused the build up of sand in the channel once more.

Transport NSW Roads & Maritime Services has currently listed the following Marine Notice:

Navigation Warning and Advice - Little Box Head to Lobster Beach, Brisbane Water -shallow water in marked channel
Little Box Head to Lobster Beach, Brisbane Water

Until Further Notice 

Vessel operators are advised that the depth of water has been decreased due to the ongoing movement of sand in the vicinity of Little Box Head to Lobster Beach, Brisbane Water potentially restricting navigation to some vessels.

Vessel operators are advised to exercise extreme caution when navigating in the vicinity of the area due to the reduction of water depths in the marked channel. Additional navigation safety marks have been placed in this location to advise deepest channel areas.

Roads and Maritime advises: 
Vessel operators are advised that the marked channel from Little Box Head to Lobster Beach remains a navigable channel with areas of shallow water which may not be suitable for navigation by vessels with a deeper draft.
All vessel operators are advised that large vessels and deeper draft vessels navigating in the area from Little Box Head to Lobster Beach may be constrained by their draft, therefore requiring right of way in the navigable channel.
The marked channel in the vicinity of Lobster Beach is a 4 knot zone speed restriction zone. Vessels operators are advised to navigate with caution at reduced speed in the 4 knot speed restriction zone.
All vessel operators are to provide all due care when transiting this stretch of the waterway until further notice.

Roads & Maritime Services Boating Map – 8B
Australian Hydrographic Chart – AUS216
For further information concerning this Navigation Restriction, please contact the Roads and Maritime Info line on 13 12 36.

For regular PB Ferry commuters/waterways enjoyers on the Pittwater to Central Coast run you can join the text message data base by emailing your name and mobile number to for message alerts and updates. 

Photos by Marine Rescue NSW - Facebook.
*SOURCE: Media release, 21 Sep 2017 Richard Mehrtens, Office of Liesl Tesch MP