On August 24, the U.S. Coast Guard released the final report of investigation into the March 2004 capsizing of the passenger vessel Lady D in the northwest harbor of the Patapsco River, Baltimore.
Five passengers aboard the Lady D died in the accident.
The report states the accident was initiated by the master's unsafe decision to depart the dock at Fort McHenry in the face of an approaching visible squall line. The report also states that the Lady D, a small pontoon water taxi, capsized when the cumulative effect of many factors created an overturning motion from which the vessel could not recover.
Some of the recommendations in the report include:
• Conducting an assessment of the stability of the pontoon passenger vessel fleet to identify vessels that may have an elevated risk of capsizing due to improperly conducted stability tests.
• Clarifying guidance in Title 46, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 178 conditions under which a vessel’s stability characteristics can be determined based on the known stability characteristics of another vessel.
• Providing guidance for the use of enclosed canopies on all lightweight pontoon passenger vessels to allow passengers to egress quickly in the event of capsizing.
The Coast Guard has taken a series of actions to identify, assess and address areas of concern regarding the safe operation of small passenger vessels and pontoon vessel stability. These include direction to Coast Guard inspectors to investigate vessels nationwide that may be at elevated risk of capsizing, a review of stability standards and testing procedures, initiation of a comprehensive regulatory update, and publication of voluntary guidance as an interim measure.
Some of the items addressed in the proposed regulatory changes include:
• The average weight per person used in calculations for existing and new vessels would be updated based on the latest weight data reported by the CDC. The average weight would then be automatically updated 60 days after the CDC reports new data for the U.S. population (normally published every 4 years).
• At each annual inspection, the owner or operator of a vessel would need to confirm the stability information is still appropriate for the vessel’s intended use.
• At each annual inspection, the owner or operator would be required to show marine inspectors how the master determines that the vessel complies with stability requirements.
• The stability of each passenger vessel would be verified by deadweight survey at least once every 10 years using the updated average weight per person.
• Pontoon stability tests would be updated to reflect the latest improvements from the pontoon passenger vessel initiatives that were conducted in 2008.
• A new passenger movement criteria would be implemented for pontoon passenger vessels and vessels of similar light construction to address capsize.
• Masters would be required to pay special attention to both prevailing and forecasted visibility and environmental conditions, including wind and waves.
• Masters of small passenger vessels (less than 65 feet) would be required to have a way to obtain or monitor the latest marine broadcast.
• Further, the NPRM proposed revisions added more specific requirements for a vessel owner to show the vessel meets intact, subdivision and damage stability standards.