Tim Akpinar is a Little Neck, N.Y.-based maritime
    attorney and former marine engineer. He can be reached at
    718-224-9824 or t.akpinar@verizon.net.
Warm weather means extra vigilance


Warm weather is the time for barbecues, picnics and graduation parties. But the summer season also holds a "special" place in the hearts of commercial mariners because it means an increase in pleasure boat traffic.

While a 12-hour watch in the dead of winter is difficult enough, jet skis and small boats can introduce additional sources of stress.

Today, commercial mariners are subject to rigorous standards of licensing, endorsements, STCW compliance, and random drug testing. In contrast, pleasure boat operators have it a lot easier. The operator you encounter in the confines of a tight channel could be an experienced boater who understands the skill needed to pilot large tows and takes inland rules very seriously. But it could also be a kid whose parents gave him a jet ski for Christmas and is new to the concept of give-way and stand-on vessel.

However, if things go wrong and a collision occurs, the commercial mariner can expect stricter treatment under the law than a family out for a picnic in their runabout. It's not that the inland rules are applied any differently between an 85' towboat and a 22' center console - both are vessels for the purposes of the law - but the family cruiser will not have its watchstanding practices scrutinized in the same manner as a towboat.

A pleasure boat operator will not be asked if the person at the helm was an apprentice or someone licensed to stand a watch alone. There will not generally be a logbook on a pleasure boat to use against its operator. As for wheelhouse navigation and electronics data, it could be used as evidence that the towboat had enough information to take the best possible course of action.

It may be asking a lot from a teenager in an outboard skiff to distinguish between a vessel not in command, a vessel restricted in its ability to maneuver, or a vessel constrained by its draft. Therefore, professional mariners can't really make any assumptions about the approaching boat operator's level of knowledge.

So while the summer can offer a few months refuge from cold winds and ice, there are some commercial mariners who will let out a sigh of relief when October rolls around and the shipping lanes once again become less crowded.




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