Deadly Accident, Swing Keels, and Mandatory PFDs
May 20, 2011
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.