A local marine surveyor is cautioning Bahamians to heed load capacities in the wake of two horrific boating accidents, including one that left three children dead.
The youngsters were trapped inside a cabin of a 34-foot Silverton that capsized on Long Island Sound in New York.
“Investigators are looking into the cause of the accident but the first thing that comes to mind is the question of whether the boat was overloaded. It was a 34-footer with 27 people onboard and automatically that triggers an uh-oh reaction,” said Larry Phillips, ABYC, a marine surveyor who has been involved in pre-purchase, accident, fire, lightning, storm and other surveys on well over 1,000 vessels in The Bahamas during a 20-plus-year career.
“Reviewing the coverage that the incident has already generated, it appears that the harbour was crowded with boats watching the 4th of July fireworks and as the show ended and boats started to pull away, a vessel sped by, creating a large wake which swamped the Silverton. Would it have capsized if it had not been loaded with so many people? I was not there, obviously, and cannot say for certain, but the load factor is likely to be found to be a contributing cause. It’s a heartbreaking situation that might have been avoided had more care been exercised on the part of both the boat that created the wake and possibly the driver of the Silverton, who sadly lost a family member.”
The three children, aged 12, 11 and 8, were trapped in a cabin when the boat began sinking at about 10 pm. Twenty four others were rescued from the waters.
The tragedy followed another in Bahamian waters when a 25-foot sloop with 28 Haitians onboard, capsized in waters off Abaco.
Eleven people lost their lives, including five children.
“Overloaded boats are typical in human smuggling,” Mr. Phillips said.
“That’s why there are so many accidents and tragic endings. Both of these tragedies must serve as a wake-up call to those who fail to treat boating with the respect it demands. You can check load factors of every manufacturer on the boat itself. There is usually a plaque in a prominent place, often near the steering station or wheel, and it will say specifically what the weight load is. They generally consider an average adult weight to be 150 pounds, which might be on the light side in The Bahamas, but the responsible boat operator should be well aware of what the weight load is and act accordingly. It’s just like the weight load in an elevator. You wouldn’t put 25 people in an elevator meant for eight and expect it to perform the way it is supposed to.”
Mr. Phillips estimates that 10-12 people would be maximum safe capacity for a 34-foot vessel.