Okay, I'm officially getting old. On occasion I have become the guy standing at the end of the dock yelling at boats to slow down. I don't think I'm a party pooper, but a 15,000-pound vessel hauling ass at 70 mph can do some serious damage.
Case in point: On February 24th, the driver of a 39-foot SeaVee powered with four 300-hp outboards rammed his vessel into a beachside restaurant in Tampa Bay, Florida. The reasoning the captain used for the accident was they got lost in the fog, and the operator didn't realize he was so close to shore. The end result, the 39-foot vessel flew up a spat of sand and rammed into the restaurant. The force of the collision was so great that part of the building collapsed. The rescuers had to stabilize the roof before removing the boat.
Okay, so if you couldn't see where you were going, then why the hell were you running fast enough to launch your boat up on the beach and through a patio?
Investigators are trying to determine how fast the driver, Matt Santiago, was running when the boat ran aground and rammed into the Sunset Grill. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said alcohol was not a factor. The operator was cited for reckless operation.
Seven people were on the boat at the time, and reports claim that one passenger was taken to the hospital with injuries. A second passenger checked himself into the hospital after the crash, but thankfully neither sustained life-threatening injuries. No one in the restaurant was injured, and the captain should be thanking his lucky stars for that.
I admit, it's fun to put a powerful, high-tech vessel like a 39-foot SeaVee through its paces. These boats are built with some of the most advanced production techniques in the boating world. They are high-performance machines and I've been lucky enough to run these boats a handful of times on sea trials. It's a thrill to push the throttles down and watch the speedo tick up to 60-plus mph, but it can be a bit scary too. I tend to err on the side of caution when going that fast because boats don't have brakes!
A boat traveling at 60 mph will take several boat lengths to stop, especially in calm waters. I would never travel at high speeds in poor visibility, no matter how tempting it is to drop the hammer. So why was Mr. Santiago going fast enough to launch his boat into someone's hot wings?
While boat builders continue to improve hull design and engine manufacturers create more powerful, lighter engines capable of unthinkable torque and horsepower, we need to take a step back and think about safety. In 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard cited 4,515 boating accidents that involved 651 deaths, 3,000 injuries and approximately $38 million dollars of damage to property. Accidents happen, but with a little common sense many accidents can be avoided.
There are a few basic safety considerations that could have saved Mr. Santiago a lengthy explanation to the insurance company. First, if you can't see what's ahead of you because of fog or darkness, slow down! Second, on a vessel like that, I imagine there's a radar. Learn how to use it, as this piece of equipment was built specifically to help avoid situations like this. Third, if conditions are poor, don't go out. If you're already out there, find a safe anchorage or harbor to weather out the conditions.
Perhaps the investigation will show other factors that contributed to this accident, but to the outsider, it looks like common sense got pushed aside for the desire to go fast.