From the Boathouse: Boston Whaler accident a safety reminder


The United States Coast Guard has released the 2012 recreational boating statistics that detail boating accidents and state vessel registrations. The report includes data from every state and, additionally, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The reports stated the good news that fatalities related to recreational boating numbered only 651, the lowest in years. As I wrote in my column during National Safe Boating Week, which was the week of May 16, "there were only 758 fatalities in 2011, 672 in 2010 and 736 in 2009, according to the Coast Guard's latest statistics. The National Marine Manufacturers Assn. reports that in 2011, 83 million people participated in boating."

I continued, "If we do the math, fatalities divided by the number of participants means only 0.00091% of boating participants died in 2011. Remember, this includes anyone who died boating whether from a crash, falling down in a boat or ... {drowning] while swimming off a moored boat that was not underway." The statistics show that boating is a very safe activity, but accidents do happen.

Operator inattention, inexperience and excessive speed are three of the top five contributing factors in boating accidents in all of the reporting regions. I have stated many times in my columns that skippers need to pay attention while underway and that speed kills.

Unfortunately, it appears a couple or all of the above factors were in play last Sunday when the Orange County Sheriff's Harbor Patrol received a report at 9:22 p.m. that two boats had collided near the entrance to Newport Harbor. The collision is currently under investigation by the Harbor Patrol, so few details are available.

However, whenever two boats collide, operator inattention by one or both skippers comes to mind. Speed may have been involved, as was clearly evident in the damage sustained by the Boston Whaler when another vessel went over its forward section. When a boat is struck by another boat operating at high speed, it is not uncommon for the fast boat to ride up and over the boat being hit, especially if the fast boat has a conventional, raked or spoon bow.

We have identified two of the factors at least, but I do not know enough about the boating experience or education of the skippers to comment. Additionally, I do not know the crossing situation: which was the stand-on vessel (maintain course and speed) and who was the give-way vessel (keep out of the way) as defined by the USCG navigation rule No. 15 (crossing situation).

Rule No. 5 states that every vessel shall maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing, and the absence of a proper lookout is among the top five factors contributing to a boating accident.

Rule No. 6 is safe speed of a vessel, and the rule states that every vessel shall proceed at a safe speed so that it can avoid a collision by being able to stop in time. The photo in the Daily Pilot of the Boston Whaler shows severe damage to the Whaler's starboard bow area. If it was hit on its starboard side, that would make the Whaler the give-way vessel.

However, it is not that simple. Was the Whaler moving at a high rate of speed as well? Two facts are clear: The other vessel was moving at a high rate of speed and it struck the Whaler.

Frequently, I see skippers maintaining a high speed until the harbor's line of demarcation and then cutting the throttles back to the harbor's speed limit. A bad maneuver, especially at night. I teach new boaters to start throttling back before they reach the entrance buoy floating just seaward of the harbor entrance.

Yet, who is responsible for the collision? Or was it an accident caused by both skippers? I am very interested in the outcome of the accident investigation to know what really happened on that crescent-moon night. Also, I hope for speedy recovery for the injured people.

Please be boat smart and boat safe. Boat responsibly, and look around and behind you before you turn the wheel at the helm.

Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, "Boathouse Radio Show," broadcasting live coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network. See times at, and

Safe voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to

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