Boating accident was avoidable

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 9/15/01)
By Ray Pendleton

I'm sure Water Ways readers will understand. Until I turned on the morning news on Tuesday, I had planned on discussing the sailor who was lost overboard off Diamond Head last weekend.

Then suddenly, the dangers of recreational boating - and even the loss of one sailor's life - paled in comparison to the images being shown on the screen.

Like the rest of the world, I was overwhelmed by scenes of an entire jet liner disappearing into the flank of New York's World Trade Center and the terror of those watching from the streets as debris rained down like a storm from hell.

As a retired firefighter, I could closely relate and grieve over the loss of the hundreds of emergency responders who perished when those 110-story, twin towers collapsed.

And, like the rest of our nation, I could surely recognize that that day's unprecedented acts of terrorism constituted our country's second "day that will live in infamy."

Even now, days later, as life begins to return to something close to normal, there is a sense that the world has somehow fundamentally changed forever.

Nevertheless, I suppose, interest in recreational boating will surely survive, just as it has through other world conflicts, even though the subject seems so very trivial compared to the recent tragic events.

With that thought in mind, perhaps we can briefly discuss the nature of last weekend's sailing accident to see if there are lessons to be learned.

According to the Coast Guard, a 33-year-old man, who had recently bought a 25-foot sailboat, took two friends for a Sunday boat ride offshore of Waikiki.

The two guests admittedly did not know how to sail.

At about 5:30 p.m., one guest said, the owner - wearing only shorts - was somehow struck by the boom and knocked into the water about three miles off of Diamond Head. He was not wearing a life vest.

The two men remaining on board didn't know how to turn the boat around to retrieve the owner and no one threw him a floatation device.

To compound matters, there was no radio or cellular phone on board the boat, so the two guests were unable to call for help.

Somehow, the guests were able to maneuver the boat closer to Waikiki where they attracted the attention of the crew aboard the dinner cruise boat Royal Princess, who then called the Coast Guard.

A search for the missing man was initiated at about 7 p.m. and continued through the night and the following two days. The man has yet to be recovered.

The errors made during this apparently fatal voyage should be obvious to the youngest Sea Scout.

First, no boat skipper should ever cast off before discussing emergency procedures with guests and determining the abilities of all of those on board.

Next, being able to swim is a major prerequisite of sailing. Anyone who cannot, should always wear a personal floatation device.

And finally, no one should sail offshore without the ability to signal distress in a variety of ways that may include flares, radios and cellular phones.

To do any less and disaster beckons.

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