Our boating accident lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. have seen far too many accidents in open waters result from negligence. Whether the accident was the result of speeding, mechanical issues, Boating Under the Influence (BUI), or just plain old distraction, negligence plays a major role in accidents involving pleasure crafts, personal water crafts and professional vessels, but unfortunately, despite the increasing number of serious crashes, not much is being done to reduce the number of tragedies caused by carelessness.
This week, investigators are looking into the sinking of a UK fishing boat, which lead to the death of a crew member, and the results have been shocking.
According to the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), an alarm connected to the vessel named the Achieve was disconnected, which prevented crew members from being warned that the boat was flooding. The agency also revealed that a distress button that would have helped with the rescue of the crew was not used, causing a 45-minute delay in Coast Guard emergency response time.
The fatal boating accident took place last year in February, off the isle of Taransay. Three crew members made a mayday call and once coast guard crews arrived, transported all three men to a nearby hospital. Sadly, one of the crew members, Norman MacLeod, 45, died while obtaining medical treatment.
According to the MAIB, the bilge alarm in the aft fish hold had been disconnected, which prevented the crew from receiving a warning that their vessel was flooding. The report also showed that the vessel’s digital selective calling (DSC) system was not used to raise a distress call, which could have possibly saved the life of the victim by allowing emergency crews to arrive at the distressed vessel much sooner.
The maritime accident report pointed out that the boat’s skipper preferred to use the VHF radio instead of the digital system because he did not fully understand how the more advance system worked – a critical error. Not only was the distress signal incomplete, but it is unacceptable for a crew member to have anything less than a full understanding of their vessel’s operational systems.
Crew members on any kind of vessel, whether it’s a tinny, a yacht or a cruise ship should be fully aware of all the equipment on their boat and how to operate it properly. There is no excuse for a crew member to have access to the operation of a vessel without having the proper knowledge of how it works – especially an emergency distress feature.
MacLeod’s death was ultimately caused by hypothermia. Had the proper distress system been used to seek help following the accident, perhaps coast guard crews could have arrived at the scene much faster and could have saved the victim’s life.
Unfortunately, maritime safety lessons are usually learned in the wake of a tragic fatal accident. There are endless ways that boaters can prepare for an accident, and one of the most critical ways is for them to actually take the time and get to know the features on their vessel before they get out into the waters.
There should also be a significant number of lifejackets onboard, as well as lifeboats. We don’t know whether the men had any of these safety systems when the vessel began to sink, but had they had an emergency inflatable raft onboard their boat, the chances of MacLeod dying from hypothermia would have been extremely unlikely.
Our boating accident attorneys urge anyone who is taking a vessel out to sea, whether for pleasure or for business, to exercise caution and abide by proper maritime laws. Far too many accidents can be completely avoided if boaters would just take the time to learn their vessel’s equipment and prepare for emergency situations before they actually occur.