String of boat accidents has Coast Guard on alert

Posted July 15, 2010, at 12:28 a.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Coast Guard will be patrolling the harbor here more heavily in coming weeks, according to Station Rockland’s Commanding Officer Sebastian Arnsdorf.

In recent weeks several minor boat crashes and a boat fire are spurring the increased patrols and boater education efforts, he said.

“We had two crashes in one weekend,” Arnsdorf said Wednesday. “That is extremely high.”

Arnsdorf said he worked at a station elsewhere in the country that hosted 4,000 boats per day, which would go months without an accident. Rockland Harbor hosts only a couple hundred boats per day at its most hectic, but has had several incidents already this summer, including crashes and a fire.

Arnsdorf said he had no clear explanation for the higher amount of incidents, but speculated that the increased boat traffic in the summer and the heavy fog that rolls into the harbor most days might have some effect.

Rockland harbor master Ed Glaser said there hasn’t been a jump in the number of accidents this summer, but people could always be safer.

Captain David Gelinas, who is the president of Penobscot Bay and River Pilots Association, said Arnsdorf and his crew have a lot to deal with in Rockland’s harbor.

“The Coast Guard, they are really up against a wall with the lack of education and professionalism they deal with out there,” Gelinas said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Gelinas is a proponent of requiring Maine boaters to be licensed.

“I think that’s the problem. What is required to get on the water? You register the boat — that is it. No safety training. I think that contributes to the higher numbers [of crashes].”

The captain said he often sees recreational boaters operating in the fog, which can be dangerous.

“Why people insist on going out in the fog is beyond me. If you don’t need to be out there in the fog, why would you be?” Gelinas said. “I think people just go willy-nilly. It is July and by golly they are going to go boating with their family.”

One boater got lost in the fog on a recent night in the harbor, which created a danger for the boater and for any other boaters in the area, who might have struck the disabled boat, according to the Coast Guard.

“If you are a small boat with no lights, no nothing, it is likely a big boat could run you down,” Arnsdorf said.

Rockland Harbor also had a fire recently that decimated a boat near the town’s breakwater.

“Once they get going, they can get out of control pretty quickly,” Arnsdorf said of boat fires.

Being properly equipped can help prevent accidents altogether, he said. Boaters should have a radio, a cell phone, working navigation lights, flares, a fire extinguisher, a fog horn or other noise-maker, the proper amount of life jackets for the boat and an emergency kill switch, which cuts the engine if the captain is thrown off-ship, Arnsdorf said. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife also suggests boaters have paddles, an anchor, a tool kit, a bail bucket, a flashlight, any needed charts, navigational equipment, food and water.

“It is concerning to me,” said the commanding officer. “We have had so many accidents, and the people who contact us don’t have safety equipment on the boats. People are [endangering] themselves unnecessarily.”

George Sayre of Rockland, who helps teach boating safety courses in town through The Midcoast Sail and Power Squadron, said, “There is a lot of boat traffic, a lot of boat congestion [in Rockland.] The moorings are all close together, and if there is any wind, boats that are going slowly can be blown into other boats.”

The squadron offers free safety inspections, which harbor master Glaser recommends people use.

“It makes a lot of sense for anyone going out on the water to have the best safety equipment they can. I’m not saying they have to have electronics, but good life jackets and a radio could make the trip safer,” Glaser said Wednesday.

If a boat is in an accident and is in distress, Arnsdorf said the boater should call the Coast Guard on radio channel 16, call 911 or call the station at 596-6667. If the boat is not in distress, the boater must still report the incident to the Coast Guard.

For more information call the Coast Guard or visit www.maine.gov/ifw/laws_rules/boatlaws.htm.

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