Speed, darkness deadly combination on boats

OUTDOORS

March 30, 1993|By PETER BAKER

A week ago last night, Tim Crews, Steve Olin and Bob Ojeda, all pitchers with the Cleveland Indians, were coming in from a fishing trip on Little Lake Nellie in Florida. Coming home in an 18-foot bass boat.

Coming home at almost full throttle over obstructed waters on an overcast night further darkened by the new moon.

On Sunday, Steve Olin was buried in Portland, Ore. On Saturday, Tim Crews was buried in Windermere, Fla.

What killed two men and left Ojeda seriously injured?

The boat, operating at high speed, ran into a darkened boat dock.

The deadly incident on Little Lake Nellie is an example of what can go wrong when boating at night. It also is a lesson from which all boaters can learn.

According to the BOAT/U.S. Foundation for Boating Safety, the possibility of having an accident at night is four times greater than during daytime. But the possibility of a nighttime accident involving a fatality is seven times greater.

U.S. Coast Guard statistics say that 30 percent of all U.S. recreational boating fatalities are caused by nighttime accidents.

Now, consider that only 5 percent of recreational boating activity occurs at night and extrapolate. Statistically, nighttime boating is a dangerous pastime.

The boat that Crews owned was an 18-footer powered by a 150-horsepower outboard motor. It was capable of more than 50 mph and crash investigators found the throttle almost fully open.

At 50 mph on an overcast night with no moonlight, visibility has been estimated to be about 50 yards, leaving a reaction time of perhaps two seconds, about the time it takes to strike a match and light a candle in a still room.

Bass boats, the low-slung craft that tournament fishermen and amateurs alike use on the sheltered waters of this region, are not an issue here, except that they are faster than most fishing boats.

The issue is proper judgment and knowing that nighttime is not really the right time to be in a hurry to or from the fishing grounds or while out for a cruise.

Several steps are recommended by boating safety and instruction groups to help overcome the more difficult conditions of boating at night.

The first is for the skipper of the boat to familiarize himself with the area to be traveled by checking charts and noting all lighted and unlighted navigational markers for buoyed channels or points, shoals, fish traps, docks, piers, wrecks and prominent features of the shoreline, including tall structures and unusual terrain.

The skipper should have a plan for time and distance traveled in relation to the points of reference noted and should then explain them to the others aboard.

Informing the crew will allow several pairs of eyes to be alert for marks along the course to be traveled. A time and distance plan and a checkoff list will provide a running count of positions and potential dangers.

Speed also is an important factor. Reduce speed at night to make picking up marks easier and to allow reaction to steer around debris in the water and minimize the chance of collision with other boats or obstructions.

Have all aboard wear life jackets striped with reflective tape or with strobe lights attached and keep them away from the edges of the boat, where there is an increased chance of going overboard. Returning to a man overboard without a life jacket is hard enough in daylight, but at night a head bobbing among even 1-foot waves can be very hard to find.

Life jackets keep more of the body out of the water and reflective tape will show up in the beam of a flashlight or spotlight. A strobe will provide a continual reference.

If someone goes overboard, maintain eye contact with the person and point while the skipper brings the boat around to pick him up.

Be prepared before you leave the dock with the boat and all safety gear in good operating order. Brief those aboard about your trip and file a float plan or itinerary with someone ashore.

And avoid the temptation to throttle up in the darkness.

Speed kills.

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