Parents Who Tethered Their Toddler To A Boat To Cook Dinner Prove A Lapse In Judgment Can Be Fatal

While the parents had no intention of the unimaginable happening to their child, it only takes a few seconds for tragedy to happen.

sailboat, children, drowning FamVeld / Shutterstock 

It only takes a matter of seconds for your world to go from completely ordinary to an unfathomable nightmare. 

One family from New Zealand will forever be haunted by the few moments they spent below deck of their catamaran cooking dinner while their toddler was above deck. The parents assumed that their daughter was watching a movie. However, when they returned they encountered a gruesome scene. 


The parents had tethered their 13-month-old daughter to their boat while they cooked dinner. 

Mark and Kiri Toki, a couple from New Zealand, and their daughter, Māhina, were vacationing on their family yacht when they decided to dock the boat in Musket Cove on the West side of Fiji. While the parents went below deck to cook dinner, they left Māhina above deck, strapped into a harness while watching a movie, per the family’s Givealittle page.

While Mark and Kiri were out of sight, Māhina managed to “work free” from her harness. When her parents returned above deck, she was nowhere to be seen. The parents frantically began searching for Māhina, until she was eventually found floating in the waters below. 


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The toddler had unfortunately drowned after coming out of her harness. 

mahina toki drowning toddler new zealandPhoto: Toki Family / Givealittle

Other boats in the area, which had medical staff on board, worked tirelessly to revive Māhina but to no avail. “The family rushed into shore to seek help and a lot of people rushed to their aid, but unfortunately couldn’t revive her,” Musket Cove Resort Manager, Joe Mar, told the New Zealand Herald. It is unknown how long Māhina was in the water before she was found. 


Mar adds that the incident has sent shockwaves through the island, and has left visitors heartbroken. 

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Locals claim that it is ‘common practice’ for children to be tethered to boats. 

Viki Moore, who owns Island Cruising NZ, a sailing company in New Zealand, says that is normal for parents to tether their children to their boats while sailing. “I don’t know what happened in this case, but it is very sad,” she shares, adding that multiple people rushed to help the family. 

A sailing safety tether is used in conjunction with a life jacket to safely attach one to the boat. When used correctly, safety tethers can save those who fall overboard from drowning. Even though they are designed to keep passengers safe, those who cannot swim should always be monitored while on deck, especially young children like Māhina. 


Drowning can happen in a matter of seconds, and contrary to what we see in movies, it is relatively silent. 

"At the hospital, we often hear stunned parents say, 'I don't know what happened. I just turned around for a minute,'” Jesus Alderaete, the Program Manager of Injury Prevention at Children’s Health claims after a child drowning occurs. "Unfortunately, the reality is that drowning happens faster than most people realize." 

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For children ages 5–14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes, per the CDC.

Although Mark and Kiri assumed that their daughter was safely tethered to their sailboat, their tragic story proves how a momentary lapse in judgment can be fatal. Had either one of the couple stayed with Māhina above deck while the other cooked dinner, she most likely still would have been alive today. 


Just like other parents who have lost their children to drowning, they never imagined that just a few seconds where their child was out of sight would turn into a nightmare they will never wake up from. 

Little Māhina is remembered as “a beautiful, happy, smiling child who loved the water and life on the boat,” per a family friend on the Givealittle page. “Her mother, Kiri, said she had eyes that looked into your soul from the [day] she was born,” the page read. “To the beloved Māhina, may you forever live in peace, splashing with joy somewhere in the sea.” 

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Megan Quinn is a writer at YourTango who covers entertainment and news, self, love, and relationships.