Fort Mill Times

Study: Visibility factors in small boat collisions

Collisions between powered and non-powered personal watercraft and sail or powered craft are a serious concern for professional mariners and recreational boaters alike. United States Coast Guard statistics show that in recent years, collisions with a recreational vessel have consistently ranked as the leading primary marine accident type. Operator inattention and improper lookout are leading primary contributing factors to marine accidents.

Human factors considerations including the visibility, conspicuity, detection and identification of non-powered PWC weigh heavily in marine accident investigations and forensic analysis of collisions.

Oftentimes, seconds or less in power craft response can make the difference between a catastrophic collision and a harrowing but harmless near miss.

For the operator of an SPC to take evasive action to avoid a collision, they must first detect and then identify the presence of the PWC. Visual detection and identification distance is critical in providing the SPC operator with sufficient time and distance to alter their course or take appropriate emergency action to avoid colliding with a PWC.

The study revealed several findings, including:

1. Identification distance is enhanced when the small craft is viewed against a shore background and when wearing fluorescent attire.

2. There are Zones of Vulnerability that prudent operation of small craft and power and sail craft must be aware of and avoid.

3. Twenty recommendations are made with regard to boater safety and education to help commercial and recreational mariners avoid collisions with a small craft.

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