The National Transportation Safety Board today recommended that small passenger vessel owners develop and implement go/no go policies, based on risk-management principles, regarding transiting bars and inlets, and that the Coast Guard require passengers of such vessels on the West Coast to wear lifejackets while transiting bars and inlets where rough bar warnings are in effect. The recommendations address operations conducted in Coast Guard-designated surf station and regulated boating areas. The recommendations are among 7 contained in a final report of the Board's investigation into the June 14, 2003 capsizing of the small passenger vessel Taki-Tooo just after departing from Tillamook Bay in Oregon to the Pacific Ocean. The accident claimed the lives of 11 of the 19 persons aboard the vessel.
Because of the sea conditions that day, the Coast Guard had posted small craft advisories and prohibited recreational boats and uninspected small passenger vessels from transiting the bar; the restrictions did not apply to inspected charter vessels like the Taki-Tooo. The Taki-Tooo was one of five vessels that approached the bar at about the same time. The Captain of the Taki-Tooo watched three vessels cross before attempting to take his vessel across the bar. None of his passengers was wearing a lifejacket; Coast Guard regulations state that the master shall require passengers to wear lifejackets when crossing hazardous bars and inlets. Just after departing the Tillamook inlet, the Taki-Tooo was struck by a large wave and capsized.
The Safety Board determined today that the probable cause of the accident was the decision of the master to attempt to cross the bar despite the hazardous sea state that existed at the time. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the failure of the master to ensure that he and all aboard donned lifejackets before crossing the bar. Also contributing to the severity of the accident was the failure of the U.S. Coast Guard to enforce its rules requiring vessel masters (in this case, the master of the Taki-Tooo) to have passengers wear lifejackets before attempting a hazardous bar crossing.
The Board noted that federal regulations require airlines to develop operating specifications that strictly delineate the conditions under which their aircraft will be allowed to operate. Similarly, vessel owners should establish go/no go criteria, rather than leaving it solely to the discretion of the master, who might have many outside factors to contend with in making such a decision. Pending implementation of such a Coast Guard regulation, the Board recommended that the National Marine Charter Association urge its members to implement such policies regarding transiting bars and inlets at Coast Guard surf station and regulated boating areas.
Although the Coast Guard has a regulation requiring vessel masters to compel passengers to wear lifejackets during hazardous conditions, the Board found that this regulation is rarely enforced, and the Board believes a revision of the regulations is required. The NTSB said that it recognizes that a regulatory change affecting all bars and inlets may not be warranted, and noted that sea conditions at West Coast inlets are more severe than conditions at East Coast inlets. For example, incoming seas at West Coast bars are greater in height and more unpredictable. Therefore, the Board recommendations dealing with mandatory lifejacket use are directed to West Coast operations.
A synopsis of the accident investigation report, including the findings, probable cause and safety recommendations, can be found on the "Publications" page of the Board's web site, www.ntsb.gov. The entire report will appear there in several weeks.