Fisher Maritime personnel have analyzed numerous boating casualties, providing technical advice and expert witness services. Usually those matters are settled or resolved before going to trial.
We have analyzed, reported on, been deposed, and testified in many courts about matters ranging from houseboat fires to bow-rider spinal injuries to sinkings and flooding damage, as well as other topics related to mis-design, manufacturing errors, and failures to warn. As a result of these analyses, we continue to see irrational aspects of recreational boat design and manufacturing which have led to severe personal injuries. Some insights gained from our analyses are included below.
One fundamental cause of injuries to users of boats is a lack of boat construction in full accordance with the engineering and plans. For example, the failure to secure seats in full accordance (not partial accordance) with the engineering instructions indicates incomplete quality assurance on the manufacturing floor. The inadvertent use of the wrong type of hose for engine exhaust lines also stems from insufficient manufacturing quality control. The wiring of smoke and CO alarms to an ignition circuit instead of directly to the battery can result in inoperable safety features just when they are needed most.
In one of our newsletters we published the idea about designing for discomfort, so boat passengers would not sit or lie down at inappropriate places. Firm (but not hard) foam-filled shapes or buzzer sounds are some of the possibilities to dissuade passengers from occupying inappropriate positions.
Based on our analyses of a number of boating accidents, we see that the risk associated with boat speed is a concern. The sale of offshore racing type boats to amateurs with little more qualifications than sufficient buying power is also a recipe for casualties. In response to our expert reports and/or the outcome in several law suits, some boat manufacturers are beginning to provide training courses to purchasers of such boats; but we are concerned if that will be sufficient. A more fundamental question applicable to the recreational boating industry is this: Just because a faster boat can be built for a market that wants it and can afford it, is that sufficient justification to create the risks of use of such boats by amateurs?
The available underway seating in a boat and the rated occupancy of those same recreational boats are often inconsistent. Per USCG regulations, the boat occupancy rating is determined from a reserve buoyancy perspective. Manufacturers (and their designers) often fail to provide seating for that rated number of persons. It is permissible for boat manufacturers to down-rate the maximum capacity to match the number of available seats. Otherwise, the manufacturer is implying that it is permissible to have more persons aboard the boat than the number of seats. This, too, promotes the likelihood of casualties.
The type of boat euphemistically called "a bow rider" has been the cause of many severe spinal injuries and injuries suffered as a result of ejection from the boat. Simply, persons who ride in the bow while the boat is operating at high speed over wakes and waves may incur spinal injury or be tossed over the side. The presence of seats at the bow encourages such use at high speeds because it is fun to be there if the water is mirror-smooth. However, amateur boat operators (that is, nearly all of them) do not appreciate that such fun carries with it high risk of injury when crossing wakes or waves.
The concepts expressed elsewhere on this page may suggest to some that we are not friendly to boat manufacturers. Not true. Rather, we are trying to use our professional analyses to point out to boat manufacturers that it is possible to identify "weak" aspects of design and manufacturing, and to then improve their products for safety as a response to those analyses.