INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING, FROM OUR BOATU.S. MARINE INSURANCE FILES
96 | Navigational hazards 99 | Boater alerts
contributed to the collision.
What happened was that Nap Tyme
was perfectly capable of maintaining
course and speed and even showing dangers on a chartplotter and radar. But without a human backing it up, the boat was
bound to run into something. Fortunately,
no one was hurt, but had the timing of
the collision been a little different, the
outcome could have been much worse.
For all of their incredible processing
power and neat tricks, a boat’s electronics
are narrow-minded. They only do what
we tell them. More and more, BoatU.S.
Marine Insurance is seeing claims related to letting electronics take command.
We’ve analyzed some of the BoatU.S.
claims and even spoken to a few willing,
if embarrassed, boaters, and found three
categories for these claims.
Add colorful 3-D icons of a boat with
chart, bathymetric, and radar overlays,
and even sounds, to the usual array
of depth sounders, knotmeters, wind-indicator instruments, engine gauges, and
a VHF radio, and what do you get?
Information overload. Skippers can get
so caught up watching the colorful video
voyage that it’s easy to forget to look up.
A skipper in New York, who recently
Keeping a proper lookout
spent a lot of money on an integrated
navigation system for his 43-foot cruiser,
told us, “My wife used to refer to the
boat’s nav system as my $10,000 video
game. After I bent both props and rud-
ders on some rocks while showing her
how the system worked, she started call-
ing it my $20,000 video game.”
Navigation equipment is designed
to be easy to use, and some of them
are downright fun. Joysticks, once found
only in video games, are now all over
navigation gear. And while all of these
devices can make piloting interesting and
less tiresome, they can’t substitute for a
human watching the horizon. Plus, it’s
In September 2015, a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain delivering a 60-foot boat from the Newport, Rhode Island, boat show to another boat show in Norwalk, Connecticut, ran over a small fishing boat, killing the lone occupant. After a trial this spring, the
captain was found guilty of, among other things, failing to keep a proper lookout. He
said at trial that he hadn’t seen the 23-foot boat.
Often termed the first rule of seamanship, Rule 5 of the International Regulations
for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) expressly requires that “[e]very vessel shall
at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing as well as by all available
means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full
appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.” Here’s a practical perspective to
assist the recreational boater.
All mariners must utilize sight, sound, and all available means to monitor the presence and location of other vessels to avoid risk of collision, stranding, and other hazards to navigation. Courts have interpreted this to include the power and speed of your
vessel, other vessels, prevailing weather and sea conditions, visibility, traffic density,
proximity of navigational hazards, as well as other allision (running into something
stationary) and grounding risks.
For a recreational vessel owner or operator who takes to the seas alone, complying with the lookout rule is not exactly as cut-and-dried as one may think. If a skipper
decides to act as his or her own lookout, there must be an unobstructed view from the
steering station, and there should be no conditions that would require a posted lookout,
such as restricted visibility or a crowded waterway.
Courts have made it clear that a boat owner cannot turn control of his boat over to
someone who may lack experience or may be intoxicated. If the boat is being operated
jointly and a passenger maintains some active responsibility for and control over certain
aspects of navigation, there still must be a clear delineation of duties with the lookout
obligation always being assigned and satisfied. They have also consistently refused to
recognize an exception to the lookout rule on account of size alone. One court found
that a 36-foot sailboat owner was partially at fault for failing to maintain a lookout when
an oceangoing container ship collided with his sailboat.
— RAUL CHACON & MARCUS MAHFOOD
Raul J. Chacon Jr. is a partner at The Chartwell Law Offices in Miami, Florida, focusing on
admiralty/maritime law, products liability, property and casualty, insurance defense, and
commercial litigation. Marcus G. Mahfood is a partner with The Chartwell Law Offices,
LLP in Miami, Florida. He specializes in the areas of admiralty and maritime law, insurance coverage, personal injury, wrongful death, and premises and products liability.