The Jose Fernandez boating tragedy, some safety thoughts

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

16 Responses

  1. William says:

    Outstanding blog post. I commend you for this well written piece. This young man certainly deserves the positive reinforcement from his many communities such as ours in the boating world and also those from professional sports and the local Miami area.

  2. John Kettlewell says:

    There is also the danger that the more “safety” gear and gizmos we have the faster we are encouraged to go, the more risks we take, and the accidents still happen. The same problem happens on the highway. Here in the Northeast we joke that the first signs of a slippery highway are the 4-wheel drive vehicles in the ditch. Drivers feel they can go faster because they have 4WD, antilock brakes, and traction control. The other issue I see on a lot of boats (and in cars too) is ruined night vision due to all the electronics, cockpit lights, LED indicator lights, nav lights, etc. Lots of small go-fast boats have an all-around white nav light that illuminates the whole boat, which is bright white, just ruining your night vision. As an experiment some time try running at night for awhile, like 30 minutes or so, with no lights on whatsover (do it someplace safe) and be amazed how much better you can see after your eyes adjust.

  3. Amity83 says:

    Your mention of night vision is significant. When I had an open center console I often had to remove my all around light because I truly believed I was safer being able to see than other being able to see that light. I debated putting just a stern light in for those situations. I know it wasn’t legal and I struggled with the decision, but I couldn’t see worth a damn with that light on. Even using my spotlight is a very careful task as the flood of the beam lights up the whole deck. I know they look funny, but sometimes I’m envious of those boat with the headlight type lights on the bow under the gunwale. I also have Macris Industries underwater lights (written up on panbo a few years ago) on the bottom and transom of my boat, and if there is no moon out, they light up my wake so much that they reduce my night vision and I have to turn them off, despite how cool I think they look.

  4. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    John, some of the early morning photos of the crashed boat show its blue LED interior courtesy lights on at least in the bow area and some posters at The Hull Truth have wondered if that was part of the problem:
    However, it seems possible to me that most anything on the boat could have gotten turned on or off by the crash itself. Plus having them on while running fast in the dark would be bad judgement in the first place. Similar to thinking that your car can do things it can’t.
    You can see in the SeaVee photos that the 32Z does have an all around white running light but its on a pole at the aft end of the top, which should mean very little light pollution in the driver’s forward field of view.

  5. Shane Kennedy says:

    People tend to drive at their risk limit. Add safety features to the vehicle, smooth the curves, better lighting etc, just encourage people to drive faster. With younger people, it is the perceived danger that motivates them. We either need to change our nature (unlikely) or find ways to increase the perceived risk without increasing the actual risk. A friend once said that he preferred to ride an older motorcycle, as when he was doing 80MPH, it felt like he was doing 120. On a modern machine, 120 felt like 80.

  6. Jeffrey Sandor says:

    I recently got a new Audi A3. It’ has a ton of electronics.. and things like WiFi and internet and sensors and rear back view camera. It even has a trackpad where you can use your finger to write letters and numbers.
    WOW this car is a video game… it is the epitome of distracted driving. I struggle to drill through the menus to find the odometer!!
    The car drives like a dream…. but the electronics and the entertainment system which can play content from youtubes, CDs, sD cards, smart phones…oh…. and the radio including Sirius XM.
    I suppose once you learn how to find all the good stuff you can do it with your eyes closed… I mean with your eyes on the road. I find myself distracted by trying to get at some basic stuff I want… THE CLOCK… the care has no clock… it’s a little digital thingy on one of the many screens!
    This is not a good thing and I am positive people will die because of these high tech features and the user interface which requires hand eye coordination… much much more complex than selecting one of 6 radio presets.
    Houston… we’ve got a problem.
    Sorry Ben…

  7. I see accident reports like this in the news all too often, but the media speculation here doesn’t match up with the photos. I see two short gouges in the hull, but evidently they were not bad enough to seriously hole the boat. Either that boat is built like a tank or it was not going that fast. Also it seems to have stayed close to where it hit, and the bodies too. None of this “It flew through the air 100 feet then hit a tree” stuff. Sad anyway.

  8. John Kettlewell says:

    I have found on my own boats that even a masthead running light on a sailboat can seriously impact night vision, and a dashboard with all the modern gizmos is really, really bad in that regard. I can’t imagine a boat like this wasn’t running a chart plotter, which is bad enough. I see the same thing on the highway every night I drive–people barreling along at 70+ mph with a GPS brightly illuminating the person’s face. For some reason they didn’t see the jetty, indicating to me they were running too fast for the visibility conditions and/or the driver was distracted.

  9. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Geez, John, I’m guessing that you have not been out at night with a good modern MFD. The night vision problem has been solved with “dim to black” LED back-lit displays and muted color palettes. These days a single old tiny white trouble light can be more night eye bother at a helm than a 19-inch MFD screen.
    Note that phones, tablets and PC monitors do not usually dim to black, but many dedicated car nav systems do. I suspect that what you’re seeing “brightly” illuminated on the highway is operator error, not the fault of the “gizmo”

  10. John Kettlewell says:

    I have no idea what equipment they did or did not have or what lights were on or off, or whether or not the operator had everything adjusted properly, but poor night vision due to excess light on the boat and in the car is a problem. The interior of a modern car is a sea of little lights at night, most of which are unnecessary and detract from your night vision. Night vision problems have not been “solved.”

  11. mel kaluzny says:

    This is a terrible tragedy compounded by the death of three successful young men. Looking at the hull it appears that the boat was going pretty fast, maybe the engine computers record this, and i assume it had multiple engines, lots of power.
    Age brings wisdom and apprehension, that things are not always as they appear. At 70, I would have been looking for R12, wondering as I approached it if it seemed to be on station and I could see other flashers so all seemed good. And I guess I would have glanced again confirming with a chart (electronic or paper) that I had the right marker. Maybe the moon was full and you could see it all unfolding, or was it a “Maine fog” run, where you need to be on full alert until you are SURE you are where you intend to be. And I would have slowed down to a speed where my brain could process what my senses were telling me. There are less enforcers of speed and safety on the water and with all that freedom comes a responsibility. Thats why you can tell a safe boater from the crowd. It often see that some believe thrusters and joysticks make them boaters, they still don’t know how to hand a dock line to an dock person. What happened in this case may never be known. Terrible situation for them and their families.

  12. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Mel, one of favorite homilies these days:
    “Old age is a very high price to pay for maturity.”
    John, it still sounds like you have not actually been underway at night with a modern MFD (and/or instrument display). My remark that the “night vision problem has been solved…” specifically applied to those dim to black displays, though I should have added “in my opinion.”
    Jeffrey, for the last three years I’ve been driving a Ford Escape that’s fully loaded with their SYNC electronics, even automatic parallel parking which actually works pretty well. However, the “Powered by Microsoft” logo on the dash makes me shutter sometimes, and recently about half the time I get in the car it syncs with my Android phone and then attempts to call it, muting the stereo until I hit “end the call.” So far, though, all I’ve run into are trees along my driveway (twice ;-).

  13. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    What is unsolved, are guests using flashlights or their smartphones smartly so that light does not impair pilot vision.
    It would be good if smartphones could receive some kind of Bluetooth signal to dim heavily, that movie theaters, cars, and boats can transmit. although it hardly seems like a problem in cars

  14. Jeffrey Sandor says:

    I will say that navigating and even driving is very different without daylight… VERY.

  15. Absolutely, when navigating at night even places you know well in daylight are strange and confusing, and it’s not just a night vision problem. I can’t imagine doing it without radar and a chartplotter. I would want FLIR too. 5 knots feels like high speed.
    As for night vision in this case, I assume the Miami skyline is bright and moonrise was 2:17 am (28%). I think a better question to ask is how much night navigating experience did he have, and what nav equipment?

  16. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Blood Alcohol level of .147 plus Cocaine found in his blood. So unfortunate.

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