'Distracted Boating' Cited as Possible Cause in Two Accidents Involving Coast Guard Vessels

Texting, talking on a cell phone and using other electronic handheld devices such as GPS systems and laptops are well-recognized risks for deadly car, truck and tractor-trailer accidents. New evidence collected by the National Transportation Safety Board indicates that distracted boating may be as big a risk to people's lives.

Citing evidence from months-long investigations into two separate maritime accidents involving U.S. Coast Guard vessels in late 2009 revealed that crew members were texting at the time of the collisions, the NTSB this week asked the service to prohibit the use of handheld communication devices for nonwork purposes on all Coast Guard boats and ships. The first accident, in Charleston Harbor, occurred on December 5 as numerous commercial and private vessels returned to their slips following the
South Carolina (SC) city's annual Christmas Parade of Boats. Six people aboard the catamaran Thriller suffered injuries.

On December 20, a Coast Guard vessel traveling between 30 and 40 knots crashed into a privately owned fishing boat off the coast of San Diego, California (CA), killing an 8-year-old boy and sending five people on the fishing boat, including two children, to the hospital. Again, one or more Coasties was texting at the time of the accident.

On August 11, 2010, NTSB Chairwoman Debbie Hersman said, "The use of wireless communications devices while operating vehicles in any mode of transportation poses an unacceptable distraction. Lives are being unnecessarily put at risk and lost." The agency also asked the Coast Guard to alert all boat and ship operators of the dangers of distracted boating.

For its part, the Coast Guard, in July 2010, banned cell phone use by personnel who are at the helm. A wider proscription on handheld devices may be imposed after the Coast Guard considers all the NTSB's findings and recommendations.

I agree with the statement that distracted driving is distracted driving whether you're in a car, a plane or a boat. Drivers' attention needs to be on the route and the other vehicles in the area. When a driver or someone charged with watching for hazards -- as co-pilots and Coast Guard crew members are -- takes his or her eyes off the road, sky or water, tragedy often follows.

Richard N. Shapiro
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia
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