Two sides to the Houseboat sinking story

June 2010 News Charlie Meyer
Regarding the reader's opinion and statement about the sinking of the houseboat due to Crusier wake(s) found here:

There is NO question that wake creation and responsibility by all (large or small) vessels is a factor that must be recognized, however the statement: "Both cruisers, in this case, violated numerous Inland Navigation Rules required elsewhere by the US Department of Transpiration and the US Coast Guard. Among those are Rule 5 (maintaining a lookout), Rule 13 (allowing distances when overtaking another vessel), Rule 25 (signals required by the overtaking vessels warning the vessel being overtaken) and more," may be a little mis-leading, as on scene, there was no report of distance between the vessels or much contact with either to determine if any of those rules were in fact broken. As in most cases, there are two sides to the story.

There are a couple of other factors to consider in this incident that were not apparent in the initial report found here:

1. One of the cruisers (if there was more than one) was reported to have returned to assist the swamped boat. (indicates some degree of "maintaining a lookout".)

2. This houseboat was inherently unstable to begin with. Twenty-six (26) foot long, with a very HIGH center of gravity and narrow beam, with little freeboard in the stern makes it quite unstable. In addition, by adding the weight of 5 passengers on the top of the flybridge and all the equipment on the houseboat (stove, frig, and other heavy items) on the starboard side, gave it a built in list to starboard, making this a VERY unstable vessel on any body of water. (the vessel's tendency to being unstable was known and acknowledged by the owner/operator, who also allowed 5 persons to be on the uppermost part of the vessel)

3. When you factor in this happened after dark and in no way could the cruiser's know they were approaching a already unstable vessel it is a little hard to lay this incident 100% at the foot of the Cruisers and their wake alone. This vessel could have easily been swamped on any body of water after dark or in broad daylight, given its stability factors and if it made contact with even one or more wakes at the wrong time and angle.

4. Any (or all) of the Rules quoted above "could" have been followed by the cruisers within acceptable limits and not changed the outcome, due to darkness and other factors - actual distance between vessels was not stated or determined or if this was an "overtaking, crossing or meeting" situation was not revealed. As "wakes" travel for some distance, "allowing distances" quoted in Rule 13 might be hard to determine. Rule 25 - "Signals" is the only rule that might have been broken with any degree of certainty, simply because on this lake, "sound signals" (meeting, overtaking, danger, maneuvering and others) are never used, (though required by Inland Nav Rules) except by some commercial vessels. I can say with 90% certainty that any required signal, sounded by either vessel would have not been understood by both vessels.

The above in NO way changes the basic point the reader was making when it comes to responsibility for your wake or the erosion, damage and safety issues surrounding any vessel wakes. (keep in mind a 3,500 lb vessel "ploughing" along @ 1200 rpm can create a pretty substantial wake itself, which has resulted in damage and injury to others as well). With the current traffic levels and high concentration of both large and small vessels on busy weekends creates very choppy and confused sea conditions - Vigilance, common sense and attention to how your boat may handle under these conditions is very important to all of us. Inland Rules of the Road are NOT just for ships & big cruisers and they should not be singled out for "violating" rules that are ignored by most recreational boaters on this lake and offshore as well. This situation came about (luckily without loss of life or injury) as a result of BOTH wake(s) from another vessel and poor judgement (and inherent stability problems) on the part of the owner/operator of the vessel.

Capt Charles Meyer

Lake Tow LLC
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