Notice to mariners — Part I

On the night of July 26, a tragic accident occurred on New York’s Hudson River that may have regulatory repercussions. The accident should also receive close attention from the workboat industry.

A small, fast, bowrider-style pleasure craft with five people aboard, including an engaged couple, departed from a restaurant-marina in Piermont on the river’s west bank, and headed for Tarrytown on the east bank. They never made it. Before reaching Tarrytown the vessel allided, likely at a considerable speed, with barges moored at the construction site of the new Tappan Zee Bridge. The allision resulted in two deaths and serious injuries for the other passengers. The bride-to-be and best man were both ejected from the boat and were killed. The U.S. Coast Guard said the barges were properly lit in accordance with federal regulations. 

Alcohol was alleged to have been consumed by the pleasure craft occupants prior to departure. If true, it may have played a significant role in the operator’s situational awareness.

The Coast Guard has continually updated and published detailed information about the Tappan Zee Bridge construction project in the First District local notice to mariners. Each entry is ended with the usual warnings: “Mariners are advised to transit the main channel, reduce wake and exercise extreme caution when transiting the area.” I believe that whatever factors might have influenced the outcome, extreme caution was definitely not exercised by the pleasure craft operator in the July 26 allision.

However, it’s unrealistic to think that more than just a small percentage of recreational boaters are aware of the existence of notices to mariners. And even if they are, how many will actually find and download them, then carefully read, understand and act accordingly? Very few will, especially when you consider that many professional mariners don’t even bother to read them.

To expect extreme caution from people who are out solely to enjoy themselves, whether they are drunk or sober, is a fool’s bet. 

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