The Coast Guard has suspended the license of the Portland Spirit captain for the second time this year in another incident involving recreational boaters.
Capt. Lowell Gillespie Jr. lost his Merchant Mariner Credentials for three months for failing to avoid colliding with rowers participating in a regatta on the Willamette River on October 29. The Coast Guard said no one was injured, and no passengers were aboard the 150’ Oregon tour boat.
Administrative Law Judge George J. Jordan in an order issued this week said Gillespie “admitted to all jurisdictional and factual allegations.”
“I crossed the path of some sculls that were racing. They were on my starboard side, and I just misjudged,” Capt. Gillespie told WorkBoat. He said he avoided other racers at least four times earlier in the day.
He expects to be back at work in mid-February.
Dan Yates, president of Portland Spirit River Cruises, said he suspended Gillespie for 90 days. “As soon as I became aware of the situation, he and I talked about it,” Yates said.
He also said that more racers showed up than expected, and because it was getting late, the races were being run more frequently. “Capt. Gillespie thought he had the normal amount of time between racers,” Yates said. “I thought he should have waited.”
Considering the increase in recreational traffic, he’s asked the Coast Guard to “start proactively managing the river.”
A Coast Guard spokesman said the race organizers were issued a warning because they went over their time limit.
In August the captain had his license suspended for a month after navigating through an unexpectedly large crowd of recreational boaters during an event on the river in the summer of 2015. The Coast Guard said he violated Rule 8 of the Inland Rules of Navigation by failing to take appropriate actions to avoid a collision.
The event permit called for about 100 boats and more than 500 showed up, according to the Coast Guard. Gillespie said he did nothing wrong, and that he couldn’t have changed course because there were sailboats and other small boats behind him. So he crept through a space between two groups of anchored boats. “I did my best and got around and passed everybody.”
The Coast Guard shut down the event right after the incident.