On the afternoon of October 2, 2005, the New York State-certificated public vessel Ethan Allen, with a New York State-licensed operator and 47 passengers on board, departed the marina at Lake George, New York, for a cruise of the lake. The vessel proceeded northbound along the western side of the lake at an estimated speed of 8 mph. As it neared Cramer Point, the operator began a turn to the right. At the same time, the Ethan Allen encountered a wave or waves generated by one or more vessels on its starboard side. Within a few seconds, the Ethan Allen rolled to port and overturned. It began to sink about 15 minutes later. Operators of recreational vessels nearby observed the accident, proceeded immediately to the site, and began rescuing survivors. Twenty passengers died, three received serious injuries, and six received minor injuries in the accident. The operator and 18 passengers survived without injury. The resulting damage to the vessel and its components was estimated at $21,000.
The Safety Board's investigation of this accident identified the following major safety issues:
- Stability standards and procedures for passenger vessels;
- New York State's use of manufacturer's capacity plates to determine public vessel passenger loading; and
- Regulation of New York State's public vessels.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the capsizing of the Ethan Allen was the vessel's insufficient stability to resist the combined forces of a passing wave or waves, a sharp turn, and the resulting involuntary shift of passengers to the port side of the vessel. The vessel's stability was insufficient because it carried 48 persons where postaccident stability calculations demonstrated that it should have been permitted to carry only 14 persons. Contributing to the cause of the accident was the failure to reassess the vessel's stability after it had been modified because there was no clear requirement to do so.
As a result of this investigation, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard and to the State of New York.
As a result of its investigation of the Ethan Allen accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following recommendations.
To the U.S. Coast Guard:
Provide guidance to the states on U.S. Coast Guard standards for and assessment of stability of small passenger vessels. (M-06-15)
To New York State:
Address the safety deficiencies identified in the investigation of the Ethan Allen accident and issue technical guidance to vessel owners on inspection requirements for modified vessels, stability assessments and criteria, means for determining maximum safe load condition, drug and alcohol testing, manning, and safety briefings. (M-06-16)
Discontinue the use of capacity plate data associated with the U.S. Coast Guard's noncommercial boating standards for determining passenger loading on public vessels that carry more than six passengers and adopt the Coast Guard small passenger vessel inspection standards. (M-06-17