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Speed, Kills on Land, Kills on the Water
By Wayne Spivak / National Press Corps
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

The Bay City News recently reported “One man was killed and his two fellow passengers were injured in a boating accident near Sausalito this afternoon...”  The cause of this accident as it was reported by the Coast Guard that the boat “was traveling at an unknown high... when it ‘struck a submerged object of some kind’ and one man was thrown overboard.”

Why did this accident and countless others occur? In 2002, the Coast Guard reports 124 collisions with submerged objects, causing 27 injuries and four deaths and an estimated $954,582 in property damage. Furthermore, the Coast Guard statistics show that 58% of those collisions occurred in boats between 16 feet and 26 feet in length. 

Sixty-one percent (61%) of all boats in these types of collisions were deemed “open boats”.  An “open boat” is defined as a Craft of open construction specifically built for operating with a motor, including boats canopied or fitted with temporary partial shelters.” 

To clarify, let us look at the other major participant in collisions with submerged objects, garnering the dubious score of 23% of all collisions. These boats are classified as “cabin motorboats”.  Cabin motorboats are “Motorboats with a cabin which can be completely closed by means of doors or hatches. Large motorboats with cabins, even though referred to as yachts, are considered to be cabin motorboats.”

So, it is obvious that our Sausalito accident, while slightly larger (in length) than the normal accident statistic, was definitely an “open boat”.  Unfortunately, our accident victim was not a statistical anomaly! So again, why do these accidents occur?

Open water doesn’t mean unobstructed water

There is a falsity in our collective understanding of what open water is, and is not.  Open water or blue water, is not readily defined in the major boating texts (Dutton, Chapman’s).  However, the collective broad understanding of these terms mean that when one is in open or blue water they are “off-shore” and in deep-water. 

Coastal waters are near-shore and considered to have shallows and as such are to be obstructed.  In many coastal waters, draft is a major concern, and thus boaters pay just little more consideration to where they are operating, hopefully.

But are open waters really open?   The answer is clear.  NO!  Blue water is cluttered.  It has a wide array of debris floating both on the surface, as well as partially or fully submerged.  Logs, lumber, plastics, and containers (from 10 feet long to over 40 feet in length) are just some of the items floating about on the great blue ocean. By the way logs, lumber, and plastics also float about in coastal waters as well!

If this is the case, then it behooves all boaters to be extremely wary of our waters.  Traveling at high speed and connecting with a submerged object is akin to riding your bicycle and hitting a rock.  The bicycle bounces, and more times than not, you end up fall off.  When your boat hits an object, depending on its mass, your boat can react in one of several ways.

Newton' First Law of Motion: An object at rest will remain at rest and an object in motion will remain in motion at a constant velocity unless acted upon by another force.

First and foremost the boat will decelerate quickly.  This will cause all passengers and object that are not tied down to continue in the direction they were traveling, at the same velocity.  These people and objects will then either make brute force contact with parts of the boat, the other objects or sail right over the boat, ending up in the water. Secondly, the boat may itself become airborne.  There is no way to predict how your boat may react to being airborne, but it’s quite possible that it could invert; landing upside down and automatically capsizes. Thirdly, and needless to say, not the last possibility is that the boat will just sink, quite possible as fast as the Titanic.

In our Sausalito accident, one of the passengers was ejected from the boat.  He unfortunately died.  No cause of death was listed in the article, but neither the deceased nor the two other passengers were wearing PFD’s (life jackets). It is also worthy of note, that the two injured remaining members of the boat used a cell phone to call for help.  The Coast Guard wishes again to inform the boating public that your safest and best source for calling for help is your marine VHF radio.  The reasons are many, but high up on the list is the possibility of other boaters hearing your distress call and responding and/or assisting in getting help.  No one, with the exception of the party you called can hear your cell phone conversation!

For more information about safe boating, safe boating courses or information about the United States Coast Guard or Coast Guard Auxiliary, contact your local Coast Guard unit (found in the yellow pages) or see us on the Internet.  The Coast Guard is located at www.uscg.mil and the Coast Guard Auxiliary is at www.cgaux.org.

 

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