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Design for Discomfort

The following text is excerpted from the 1997 edition of Upright & Afloat, Fisher Maritime's annual newsletter:

There may be merit to designing boats to selectively create discomfort. Having analyzed the factors contributing to numerous personal injuries aboard recreational watercraft, Fisher Maritime's consultants have concluded that there is a need to stress the concept of selective and creative design for discomfort. It has been widely observed throughout the industry that passengers aboard recreational craft will sit or stand in places that were not intended to be used that way by the boat's designers. Sometimes injuries result from a passenger being in places that were not intended for them. Courts may find that the product (the boat, including its design) is "defective" if the designer and manufacturer did not anticipate reasonably foreseeable misuse -- that is, the possibility of persons seated or standing in undesirable locations.

In order to, first, reduce the likelihood of such personal injuries, and second, to have a better defense in court, the designer and manufacturer must use all reasonable mechanisms to discourage passengers from being in such undesirable locations. Warning signs near the operator's console, while necessary, are not sufficient. Additional, clearly visible warning signs at the undesirable locations should also be considered. But don't overlook the possibility of making it uncomfortable for the passenger to be there in the first place.
For example, the top of the back of bench seats across the rear of the boat can be shaped to be uncomfortable for passengers attempting to sit there while still being padded for safety. Thus persons will tend to sit in the seat rather than above the seat, but if they fall onto the back of it, they will be protected by the padding. Several manufacturers already incorporate such features in some of their models.

The aft engine cover on an inboard/outboard boat may seem to provide a suitable sundeck when the boat is anchored, but the use of it during boat operation is probably to be discouraged. Clearly visible warning signs may not be attractive, but they may prevent injuries and/or lawsuits. (We are unaware of any marketing analyses or studies which indicate that prominent and complete warning signs reduce boat sales.) A disquieting, weight-activated buzzer which sounds when persons are on the sundeck while the engine is running is a feasible deterrent to foreseeable misuse. (Similar concepts can be used on the forward seats of bow riders.) A suitable railing around the sundeck may keep errant passengers from going over the side while the boat is in operation, but the railing is not a complete substitute for keeping persons off the sundeck at such times in the first place.

Of course, none of these remedies will guarantee a lack of injuries or lawsuits, but selective and creative design for discomfort can make the boating industry a safer and thus more desirable pastime.

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