Deadly Accident, Swing Keels, and Mandatory PFDs

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 03:37PM - Comments: (21)

May 20, 2011

Marc Brown, owner of Brown's Marina, checks under the hull of a 22-foot sailing vessel at the marina in Rescue, Va., May 13, 2011. The unmanned sailing vessel was involved in a collision with a tug in the James River near Smithfield, Va. U.S. Coast Guard photo

Two boaters died last week in a boating accident involving some promising young students in Newport News, Virginia. It is a sad story about a sailboat accident that didn't have to happen. Apart from the obvious problems with a night-time adventure (likely involving alcohol) with 10 people on a 22-foot sailboat, a couple of details caught my attention. The boat has been identified as a 22-foot Venture and from the pictures, it does look like an older MacGregor Venture 22 model. We recently reviewed a similar boat the Venture 21, and found it to be an affordable entry-level trailer sailer, provided it has been upgraded and well-cared for.

The two items that struck me:

1. Judging from the Coast Guard photos taken as the boat was being hauled out of the water at Brown's Marina, I could see no evidence of the centerboard. We recently reviewed a Venture 21 and centerboard issues are common on these boats, although having the centerboard fall off completely is rare. We've had only one reader report such an incident (on another boat) in the past 5 years. Interestingly, his fell off at the dock and he suspected something was amiss when the boat heeled sharply when he stepped aboard (something that a tipsy person might easily miss). Perhaps the keel on this boat was removed. If so, then the lapse of judgement among those who decided to go for a "sail" was complete.

 

Regardless of whether the centerboard was lost or removed, we've looked at enough of these late model centerboard boats to remind owners to take a very close look at the centerboard lifting and support system--typically a hinge pin. Centerboard problems are not reserved simply to MacGregors. Our own Catalina 22 had to have the hinge-pin assembly replaced.

 

2. The second item that caught my eye was post-mortem emphasis on personal flotation gear, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. Indeed, had everyone been wearing lifejackets, the results might have been different. However, I hope that accidents such as this are not taken out of context and used as evidence in a renewed push for a federal law to make wearing personal flotation devices (PFD) mandatory for people on boats of this size. A proposal for this sort of legislation was beaten back a while ago, but the notion of a federal mandate has some influential supporters. Accidents such as this certainly don't help.

 

 

Comments (21)

Laws,laws, laws! They will save our mentally retarded,(sorry, mentally challenged) and totally infringe upon us that actually have a straw of common sense,(most of us). If someone is willing to take, a truly minimal risk, do we take that risk? Or get fined/jaled for taking that choice? We cant styrafoam every corner for the stupid people.

Posted by: stonecipher | June 2, 2014 7:47 PM    Report this comment

To update and amplify my previous comment regarding "mandatory life jacket wear" proposals: according to BoatUS, the working group-which is called the National Boating Safety Advisory Group, has passed a resolution (by a 16-5 vote) recommending that the Coast Guard develop regulations to require that while underway, a USCG-approved life jacket is worn by all boaters aboard a) personal watercraft of any size, b) human-powered vessels (rowboats, canoes, etc.) regardless of size, c) ANY vessel under 18' in length and d) any person towed while engaged in watersports. Supposedly, there will be a "substantial" public comment period. This is nice, but essentially meaningless, since government agencies-especially when engaged in infringing on personal liberty-tend to disregard such comments anyway, as they are not legally binding. My question: when can we expect a requirement for PFD's in our swimming pools and surfboards?

Posted by: Catboatfan | May 31, 2011 12:31 PM    Report this comment

As we speak-or write-a Coast Guard "working group" is working on a proposal to require mandatory life jacket wear for ANYONE-of any age- on a vessel of under 18' in length, according to an article in the recent BoatUS magazine. Correct me if I'm mistaken, but we just celebrated a holiday honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the protection of, among other valuable things, our right to make our own decisions regarding our safety and well-being, and our responsibility to live with the results. Evidently, out of 82 million of us who took to the water in 2010, 736 of us died in boating accidents from one cause or another-far fewer than have died protecting our precious liberty. According to the Coast Guard, this regulation, if in place, would have saved a whopping 71 lives. The regulation on children under 12, which has been in place for a good while, was based on something like 35 childhood deaths per year on the water, some of which would have been prevented by a life jacket. Note that far more children have drowned in bathtubs, buckets, and perished in bike accidents and the like. It is long past time that we stop submitting to this artificially generated hysteria over accidental death, and accept the fact that government, no matter how much power we give it, cannot provide us with eternal life. Some people who enter a hostile environment are going to die. When you walk out your front door, you are at risk. If you stay indoors, you are at risk. Get over it.

Posted by: Catboatfan | May 31, 2011 12:16 PM    Report this comment

As we speak-or write-a Coast Guard "working group" is working on a proposal to require mandatory life jacket wear for ANYONE-of any age- on a vessel of under 18' in length, according to an article in the recent BoatUS magazine. Correct me if I'm mistaken, but we just celebrated a holiday honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the protection of, among other valuable things, our right to make our own decisions regarding our safety and well-being, and our responsibility to live with the results. Evidently, out of 82 million of us who took to the water in 2010, 736 of us died in boating accidents from one cause or another-far fewer than have died protecting our precious liberty. According to the Coast Guard, this regulation, if in place, would have saved a whopping 71 lives. The regulation on children under 12, which has been in place for a good while, was based on something like 35 childhood deaths per year on the water, some of which would have been prevented by a life jacket. Note that far more children have drowned in bathtubs, buckets, and perished in bike accidents and the like. It is long past time that we stop submitting to this artificially generated hysteria over accidental death, and accept the fact that government, no matter how much power we give it, cannot provide us with eternal life. Some people who enter a hostile environment are going to die. When you walk out your front door, you are at risk. If you stay indoors, you are at risk. Get over it.

Posted by: Catboatfan | May 31, 2011 12:16 PM    Report this comment

Another similar incident -- no less tragic -- involving a longer MacGregor http://www.kpbs.org/news/2011/mar/29/boat-overloaded-fatal-san-diego-accident/ In this case, the keel was reported to be fully extended. As many have pointed out, the boats themselves are not at issue. However, I did want to alert owners of older swing keels to the problem David S (and other readers) have mentioned. I do support life jackets rules for smaller children. They are too young to make decisions about safety at sea, and sadly, the people responsible for their safety aren't always making the right choices. Memorial Day Weekend coming up. Here is our latest test of life jackets for small children. http://www.practical-sailor.com/issues/32_10/features/Child_Life_Jacket_5325-1.html

Posted by: DARRELL N | May 27, 2011 11:08 AM    Report this comment

I had a MacGregor 25, one of the successors to the Venture 22. The swing keel fell out and was lost while I was reefing. In searching for a replacement it seemed that most of the MacGregors and Ventures that got junked had lost their keels. The pivot pin is only an inch from the edge of the keel, eventually rusting through and allowing it to slip out of the slot and then acting like an anchor, dangling from the lifting cable. The boats are so light and so loaded with floatation that they don't sink, but maneuverablity in that situation was awful. Whether the keel was lost first and prevented them from evading the collision or whether the keel was lost in the collision itself, I feel for those folks and their families.

Posted by: DAVID S | May 26, 2011 9:02 PM    Report this comment

I still cringe whenever I hear or see the phrase "there oughta be a law"! Nobody gets out of life alive and some are impatient with the normal progess and seem to want to hurry deathss knock. So sad but let'um. signed ..unrepentant.

Posted by: john p | May 26, 2011 11:12 AM    Report this comment

This brings up a related issue, sailing a water-balasted sailboat without balast. Years ago I met a man, in Suttons Bay, MI, who had a knockdown on an un-balasted MacGreggpr 26X with his wife and small child aboard. I consider this criminally stupid.

Posted by: bbsxplore@gmail.com | May 26, 2011 6:32 AM    Report this comment

I think that a federally mandated operator's course might be a better idea, with opting out (providing proof of adequate experience and or training) being an option. A mandatory law requuiring experienced sailors/boaters to wear a life jacket at all times on boats 23 feet or less is unecessary. Education and experience is the only way to avoid accidents like this! I also agree with the comment concerning your remark about alcohol. Without evidence of alcohol abuse being involved in this accudent, the remark should not have been used. I also agree with this person and others about the centerboard. There is no definitive way to tell from this one shot whether it is present or not. If it is a steel centerboard like many I have seen before, it could be corroded and stuck inside the trunk, or it could potentially be fouled and stuck in the trunk. Nonetheless, the boat was overloaded even if the board had been present and working properly. It is only through education, experience and prudent judgement that these types of accidents can be avoided, not mandatory life jacket regulations. Have you ever tried to handle sails, or anything else on a boat for that matter, in 90+ degree weather while wearing a life jacket? Sweating, cumbersome awkwardness, heat rashes and even potential danger of entaglemet come to my mind.

Posted by: JOSEPH W | May 25, 2011 9:02 PM    Report this comment

Just to clarify the "mandatory." The reference was to the mandatory WEARING of lifejackets among ADULTS--most states require children under a certain age to wear a PFD. Boat U.S. Foundation has a pretty good rundown of existing state and federal laws. http://www.boatus.com/foundation/ljlp/staterequirements.asp Any mandatory lifejacket wearing legislation for adults -- if the proposal does again regain steam -- would likely only apply to smaller boats, 23-foot or under.

Posted by: DARRELL N | May 25, 2011 4:44 PM    Report this comment

It appears that the centerboard is in the retracted position which would make the boat unstable especially with 10 people on board. A locking pin near the pivot point keeps the keel in the extended position but in my case I would avoid this step to avoid potential damage from an unintentional grounding. Excess healing can cause an unpinned keel to swing up into the trunk making the boat unstable.( I once crossed the wake of a passing ferryboat and our boat was laid on its side because the keel slid up into the truck) Federal law does mandate that there be a PFD (Prevention From Drownding) for each person on board. Many states like California require the life jacket be readily accessible but not necessarily worn. State laws can add to but not diminish Federal boating standards. Many pictures of boating activity on the covers of sailboat magazines show the crews on the rail without life jackets! A person overboard in cold waters like San Francisco Bay can become immobilized and a fatality in short order. Stats on boating in California demonstrate that over 50% of boating accidents are alcohol related.

Posted by: ROY CAMERON | May 25, 2011 3:45 PM    Report this comment

Here's some additional information

I think the swing keel is still attached. You can see it in the other pictures on the Coast Guard website. Regular view: http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236286 Close up view: http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236286&g2_imageViewsIndex=1

Here are the other Coast Guard pictures: http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236280 http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236283 http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236286 http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236374 http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236377

There are some differences in the new reports. The Washington Post story link is above. Here's the Chicago Tribune link http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/dp-nws-capsized-boat,0,7945243.story

Posted by: Unknown | May 25, 2011 3:22 PM    Report this comment

Here's some additional information I found.

I think the swing keel is still attached. You can see it in the other picture on the Coast Guard website. The lifting strap has retracted the swing keel into the trunk. Regular view: http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236286 Close up view: http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236286&g2_imageViewsIndex=1

Here are the other Coast Guard pictures http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236280 http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236283 http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236286 http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236374 http://cgvi.uscg.mil/media/main.php?g2_itemId=1236377

There are some differences in the news stories Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/dp-nws-capsized-boat,0,7945243.story Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/body-of-missing-va-boater-from-capsized-sailboat-found-at-mouth-of-deep-creek/2011/05/18/AFbsjW6G_story.html

Posted by: Unknown | May 25, 2011 3:14 PM    Report this comment

First, shame on the Washington Post. None of the survivors were interviewed! Secondly, only two people died. Considering the circumstances, I think that's a good ratio. When I started reading the article I assumed that many more of the 10 would have perished under such conditions.

Posted by: Unknown | May 25, 2011 1:39 PM    Report this comment

I thought it was already the law that a PFD is required per person in any boat. When I was a small boy and could only play in my dinghy as it was tied to our dock in a canal my Mom made me wear my like jacket when I left the house, then I could play at the dock. It was silly. I was embarrassed. But I did it. As I grew into being a teenager, no one entered my Boston whaler 13 footer without having a PFD and though we were all fine swimmers when we jumped waves behind the big boats, we all wore them. Maybe it's the law in NY, but now at 58, for me it's the captains fault. My guess is there was no one who had been raised to understand the consequences. It's just so sad. My heart goes out to the families.

Posted by: RAMON R | May 25, 2011 11:05 AM    Report this comment

Any way you look at it this tragedy most likley happened due to poor judgment whether alcohol was involved or not. As we all know it is the PIC's job to assure the safety of crew and passengers and this should serve as a reminder. That said we do not have enough information to even guess what happened if this accident was due to negligence or mechanical failure. I for one feel for the families of those lost and wish them nothing but the best.

Posted by: Michael M | May 25, 2011 11:03 AM    Report this comment

The keel: The Venture 22s I have seen show a little bit of the keel even when retracted; I agree with the author that there really is no keel.

PFD: Trying to pass laws to somehow make it safe that a 1700lb 30 year old boat with 10 people + gear on board, missing a keel, skippered by a drunk at night will be safe is dumb. Does anyone really think a law would have somehow injected enough common sense into the skipper's head to make him put everyone's lifejacket on? Or would we all feel better if afterwards he was subject to an extra $20 fine because he didn't?

Posted by: TIM LYONS | May 25, 2011 9:57 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Dick that there is not enough info in this summary of a summary to make judgment of any kind. I also agree with Darrell in not wanting regulations to tell us how to recreate. However, this incident is one that supports the concept of regulated safety from a moral direction. If there are 10 people on a small boat following a party it is probably safe to assume not all the people are knowledgable boaters. Doug suggests this is a common occurrence. These people can not be expected to know, much less understand, the risks of capsize, falling overboard, sinking, and other dangers inherent in boating. It's east to say it's the captain's responsibility to take care of his crew and passengers; not so easy to tell the parents of the surviving youth their child is dead because of an irresponsible friend but, not to worry, you can sue for damages. I'm not ready to say we should have government regulations about wearing PFDs but I believe this incident points out some validity to the idea.

Geoff

Posted by: Geoffrey K | May 25, 2011 9:25 AM    Report this comment

Too many people for virtually all 22' sailboats, certainly this one. Out in the dark, and not enough life jackets (from other news report), and the youthful exuberance from a party (other reports). That is a recipe for disaster, but then it's also a pretty normal summer ritual in many coastal areas. It is tragic, but there is not much to be learned from this beyond the simple observation that it's tragic. If the keel had been there or not the boat could easily roll on her side until almost all the passengers were unloaded, it's simple physics.

Posted by: Doug P | May 25, 2011 9:11 AM    Report this comment

It is also possible that the centerboard was dislodged during the collision.

Posted by: Guy J | May 25, 2011 8:37 AM    Report this comment

This picture really is not clear enough to show whether is or is not a centerboard there. The location of the mast, sail and rigging could have pushed the centerboard up into the trunk. Also, again with the picture not being clear, if you go straight left from the man's nose to the trunk, there appears to be somethimg in the trunk. Unless you know for a fact, the comment "(likely involving alcohol)" is out of line. Look up the word "accident". Shit does happen, even if the boat was probably overloaded.

Posted by: DICK Y | May 25, 2011 8:32 AM    Report this comment


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