It’s amazing how fast things can change while you’re boating. For all my preaching about preparedness and managing risk, it’s the things you can’t predict that are challenging to prepare for. Something unpredictable certainly happened in August last year to off-duty police officer Bryan Maess, Christopher McMahon and Roni Durham.
I don’t usually like to show accident videos because there is often much more to the story than meets the eye, and not much can be learned. But in this case, well, just watch the video and I’ll get back to you.
Everyone — including the man driving the offending vessel — survived. There were injuries, however, and the event was as close to tragedy as anyone ever wants to get.
To clear up the obvious “What the hell was the skipper doing?” question, the driver of the fast-moving Bayliner Trophy was not unconscious or incapacitated in any way. Seventy-five-year-old Marvin Lee Larson was reported to be looking at his cell phone before the crash while his son-in-law warned him to pay attention to what he was doing.
Maddening, I know. And you thought texting and driving was a teenager problem.
We’re all thinking it, so let’s get it out of the way. Yes — there was obviously a clear violation of COLREGS Rule 5, which reads, “Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out 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.” Hint: If you are not watching where you are going, there is always a risk of collision.
Larson was charged and Maess filed suit, but I want to talk about the not so obvious: Maess and McMahon were not wearing life jackets. If you watch to the end of the video, both men have changed their practices and extoll the use of life jackets now, so good on them, but these were experienced boaters with years on the water. It took a close brush with death to change their behavior.
Something you can’t see on the video also holds a lesson for all of us. Though Durham was wearing a life jacket, her inflatable PFD did not inflate. Now that is a bad day on the water. But it should remind all of us to take maintenance seriously (and reminds me why I like non-inflatables better).
You cannot control it all out there, so remember to keep your head on a swivel, stay alert and be ready for anything.