Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Accident Avoidance

December 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

accident avoidanceA recent BoatUS study on collisions at sea noted that most accidents happen for three reasons: (1) inattention (the U.S. Coast Guard calls that “situational awareness”), (2) blind spots (“failure to keep a good look-out” in USCG-speak), and (3) speed (which everyone recognizes as dangerous).

Inattention may be failing to heed the weather. You go out on a perfectly fine morning and, through a small series of ever-worsening changes, you find yourself in an unmanageable situation. What should you have done to avoid weather-related perils?  Local boaters should keep their eyes on the western horizon, as the winds “prevail” from the southwest (and wind brings weather).  But what about those famous nor’easters, which come barreling in from the opposite direction? Storms rotate counterclockwise on this side of the equator, so the center of the storm can be found by facing the wind and pointing your right arm straight out, parallel to your chest.  You’ll be pointing out to sea in a southeasterly direction, which is where most westerlies end up as the Earth rotates under them, feeding on the warmer water below.

Using drugs or alcohol can lead to inattention. Boating under the influence is a crime, and is cited frequently in accident reports, some of which are fatal. Inattention also arises as alertness falters — a full day in the sun on a rolling deck naturally tires us out, and tired boaters invariably become inattentive boaters.

Accidents caused by blind spots occur when vessel operators aren’t sufficiently heedful of their surroundings. Under USCG Navigation Rules, the operator is required to be vigilantly and cautiously watching what is going on 360 degrees by 360 degrees; maintaining a proper lookout at all times is mandated (including breaking the rules if that’s what’s necessary to avoid a collision). In order to avoid such collisions on the water, the skipper must utilize all tools available, including radar, bells, and radios, and should position crew members about the boat to act as additional eyes and ears.

“Speed kills” is not just a cliché — it’s a statement of fact.  Who hasn’t been out on our bays and creeks and experienced another boat overtaking you at such a speed that you grumbled, “What is that moron thinking?”  USCG Navigation Rule 6— Safe Speed— is unambiguous about determining what a safe speed is under various conditions. The rule states, “Every vessel shall [must] at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.”

Admiralty and maritime boards have consistently applied the rule that a boat should be traveling no faster than the speed at which it can stop in half the distance that the operator can see ahead.  Rule 6 goes on to define factors that must be taken into account by all vessels, including the state of visibility (in other words, absent other conditions and restrictions, being able to see to the horizon means that a faster speed is permissible), traffic density (more boats requires less speed), and vessel maneuverability. Other factors include whether it’s nighttime, how much light is available, the nature of the sea and the weather, and the draft of the boat versus the depth of the water.

So that “moron” who sped by you at 40 knots might be able to justify her or his speed by the clearness of the day and the scarcity of other boats, but high speeds cannot be justified on a bay or creek where any small deviation from the channel will cause him to run aground (even channels can silt over after a storm or heavy sea state).Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 10.13.24 AM

Even though the courts have applied the previously-mentioned rule of thumb that “safe speed equals safe stopping in half the range of visibility,” special conditions apply when the hazard is below the surface. Clearly, vessel maneuverability is enhanced at slower speeds, and lower speed also gives the skipper a better opportunity to spot warning signs. Visibility on the night of April 14, 1912 was excellent when Sixth Officer James Paul Moody shouted “Iceberg ahead…!”  Though we have little danger of hitting an iceberg while out for a recreational ride, a danger like a shoal is often revealed by the tell-tale ripples in the water above it.

Failure to be prudent in all manners may have tragic consequences. After losing 46 souls when the T/N Andrea Doria collided in the fog with the M/V Stockholm on July 25, 1956, the Andrea Doria’s captain was reported to have muttered, “When I was a boy, and all my life, I loved the sea; now I hate it…”

In order for you to keep up your life-long love of the sea, pay attention, be wary, and take it slow.

If you are interested in being part of USCG Forces, email me at JoinUSCGAux@aol.com or go direct to the D1SR Human Resources Department, which is in charge of new members matters, at DSO-HR and we will help you “get in this thing.”


By Vincent Pica
District Commodore, First District, Southern Region (D1SR)
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

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