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Old 17-06-2013, 10:24   #1
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When Does an Irresponsible Skipper's Actions Become Criminal?

I see that the relatives of the HMS Bounty which was lost at sea are suing for the death of a loved one as a result of the skippers actions.
I have witnessed some very irresponsible skippers at sea with a novice crew that knew no better. I could give the stories, but I do not want to embarrass anyone. It is not just limited to novice sailors, but in the last few weeks sailing in and around San Diego I have seen dangerous sailing from pro skippers. How do I know they are pro? Well because the boats in question have the firms names and phone numbers clearly displayed on them. The USCG seem to totally ignore irresponsible sailing as do the Harbor Police. Sure, they pull boats over to do safety checks but thats about it.
Last year in the Sacramento Delta I pulled a J105 off the rocks only to find the angry skipper was rolling drunk. What did the coasties do? Nothing, and that skipper is still sailing. Sooner or later he's going to kill someone.
Going to sea with a badly equipped boat and one that any surveyor would condemn is just criminal in my view.
Many crew members are just novices at sailing and are oblivious of the risks.
So why does it happen?
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Old 17-06-2013, 11:10   #2
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Re: When does a irresponsible skippers actions become criminal?

Same reason that drunk driving still happens. The police can't be everywhere all the time. They have extremely limited resources. Heck! We have people here who complain about being stopped and boarded once or twice a year, imagine the outrage if the water-cops were stopping boats regularly and frequently.

What's more, getting a conviction depends on a whole lot of variables, and it is a huge waste of time and money to arrest people if the probability of a conviction is low. So, even when we might think it is obvious that someone should be arrested, there may be a good reason that the water-cops don't take that step.

I certainly agree that more should be done. That's one of the reasons I don't participate in the USCG bashing that happens now and then, usually as a result of someone being stopped and boarded when they didn't think there was any good reason for it. But without at least quadrupling the money we spend on such things, it's not going to change much, and no matter how much we spend on it, it will still happen now and then.
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Old 17-06-2013, 11:53   #3
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Re: When does a irresponsible skippers actions become criminal?

I'm not suggesting that the authorities stop and check for DUI at all. In fact we all know that it is common for a beer or two to be drunk whilst underway.
But that is not the main question that I'm asking, it's as the title suggests, is it criminal for a irresponsible and ill prepared skipper to put to sea.
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Old 17-06-2013, 12:03   #4
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Re: When does a irresponsible skippers actions become criminal?

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Originally Posted by bazzer View Post
But that is not the main question that I'm asking, it's as the title suggests, is it criminal for a irresponsible and ill prepared skipper to put to sea.
Ah. Well. I was answering your "why does it happen?" question.

As to whether or not it is criminal, it can be. Joe Hazelwood, captain of the Exxon Valdez, had felony criminal charges filed against him, though he was only convicted of misdemeanor negligent discharge of oil.
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Old 17-06-2013, 12:36   #5
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Re: When does a irresponsible skippers actions become criminal?

Negligence is a tort.. a civil court case. A crimminal court case is (in most countires) a breach of a codified criminal law.

Theres a USA lawyer (or ten) on this forum so one may tell you about the USA.
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Old 17-06-2013, 13:41   #6
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I'm not suggesting that the authorities stop and check for DUI at all. In fact we all know that it is common for a beer or two to be drunk whilst underway.
So it's okay for a 50 foot sailboat captain to have a few beers while navigating in public waters with a boat full of people but isn't for a ferry boat or tug boat captain?

I know I'll tick off a few here but drinking at all while at the helm should be criminal. I'm sure the argument will be made about the one or two beers being a problem but add that to the heat and dehydration and impairment can happen quickly.

The majority of times I see skippers acting dangerously its due to alcohol.

I really wish we would treat DUI like the serious offense it is as they do in Canada.
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Old 17-06-2013, 13:51   #7
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Re: When Does a Irresponsible Skipper's Actions Become Criminal?

"So why does it happen? "
Look in the mirror. You are concerned, but apparently not concerned enough to have had the USCG follow through on the drunk skipper.
I had a similar problem with a cop who didn't administer an alcohol or drug test after an accident. The problem goes away when you mention terms like "misfeasance, malfeasance, dereliction of duty" and let them, and their superior, know in clear terms what they will be charged with if they fail to perform the tests.

If you want the problem solved, you have to do some of the heavy lifting.
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Old 17-06-2013, 14:01   #8
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Re: When Does a Irresponsible Skipper's Actions Become Criminal?

Quote:
Originally Posted by bazzer View Post

(...)

Going to sea with a badly equipped boat and one that any surveyor would condemn is just criminal in my view.

(...)

So why does it happen?
The good news is you are not a law maker. That would be that for freedom (if any still left).

The bad news is (IMHO) you are right in your assessment of the number of ignorant sailors around. There are many.

And why does it happen?

Well, one reason is that people start very late and they sail very little. They turn 40 this year and they feel something is missing in their otherwise fully loaded reality and so they go to a boat show, or to the yachtworld, and oooooops - we end up with another "sailor".

People simply do not sail enough, and they do not build the skills required for safe boating.

Reading a grammar book is not the way to learn to speak a language. Buying a Ferrari is not the way to become a good driver.

Some people "think" they can buy safety in a chandlery store - a plotter, an SSB with a Pactor, a bowthruster and ASA courses. But this is not how one becomes a good sailor. Most of us walk pretty well, eh? Well, we started early and we've been practicing ever since ...

My 2 eurocents' of popcorn.

b.
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Old 17-06-2013, 14:09   #9
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Re: When Does a Irresponsible Skipper's Actions Become Criminal?

I'm confused. Are we talking DUI or negligent actions. While there is some overlap, the discussion has little to do with the bounty sinking.

If we are talking sail boats, I think some of it is intimidation. The authorities are comfortable with the idea the ski boat can simply pull back on the throttle and come to a stop. A sailboat on the other hand is a forgien concept that looks complicated and time consuming to bring to a stop. Also, there is the idea that a sailboat goes slow so it's less of a threat (some truth some falicy).
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Old 17-06-2013, 14:09   #10
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Re: When Does a Irresponsible Skipper's Actions Become Criminal?

Drinking alcohol while at the same time being responsible for others lives is simply wrong. It's irrelevant what you are driving or what the local laws say.
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Old 17-06-2013, 14:14   #11
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Re: When Does a Irresponsible Skipper's Actions Become Criminal?

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Originally Posted by hellosailor View Post
"So why does it happen? "
Look in the mirror. You are concerned, but apparently not concerned enough to have had the USCG follow through on the drunk skipper.
I had a similar problem with a cop who didn't administer an alcohol or drug test after an accident. The problem goes away when you mention terms like "misfeasance, malfeasance, dereliction of duty" and let them, and their superior, know in clear terms what they will be charged with if they fail to perform the tests.

If you want the problem solved, you have to do some of the heavy lifting.
Actually this one is a long story, but I did not discover the owner/skipper was drunk until later. It is a mystery to me as to why the USCG who boarded the boat did not realize he was intoxicated,
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Old 17-06-2013, 14:23   #12
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Re: When Does a Irresponsible Skipper's Actions Become Criminal?

Quote:
Originally Posted by bazzer View Post
I see that the relatives of the HMS Bounty which was lost at sea are suing for the death of a loved one as a result of the skippers actions.
I have witnessed some very irresponsible skippers at sea with a novice crew that knew no better. I could give the stories, but I do not want to embarrass anyone. It is not just limited to novice sailors, but in the last few weeks sailing in and around San Diego I have seen dangerous sailing from pro skippers. How do I know they are pro? Well because the boats in question have the firms names and phone numbers clearly displayed on them. The USCG seem to totally ignore irresponsible sailing as do the Harbor Police. Sure, they pull boats over to do safety checks but thats about it.
Last year in the Sacramento Delta I pulled a J105 off the rocks only to find the angry skipper was rolling drunk. What did the coasties do? Nothing, and that skipper is still sailing. Sooner or later he's going to kill someone.
Going to sea with a badly equipped boat and one that any surveyor would condemn is just criminal in my view.
Many crew members are just novices at sailing and are oblivious of the risks.
So why does it happen?

What do you suggest beginners do? Not sail until they've mastered it? Do you want sailing licenses like we have driver's licenses?

You get some basic lessons, you get out there, you start making mistakes. It's inevitable, except for the drunk part.

Of course the families are suing, and we can discuss it here until we're blue in the face, but we don't have all the facts, and we won't really know whether it's a "trivial" lawsuit or not.

But angry, grieving people want someone to blame.
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Old 17-06-2013, 14:25   #13
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Re: When Does a Irresponsible Skipper's Actions Become Criminal?

Quote:
Originally Posted by SeaBuffalo View Post
So it's okay for a 50 foot sailboat captain to have a few beers while navigating in public waters with a boat full of people but isn't for a ferry boat or tug boat captain?

I know I'll tick off a few here but drinking at all while at the helm should be criminal. I'm sure the argument will be made about the one or two beers being a problem but add that to the heat and dehydration and impairment can happen quickly.

The majority of times I see skippers acting dangerously its due to alcohol.

I really wish we would treat DUI like the serious offense it is as they do in Canada.

Personally I feel even one glass of wine or one beer, and there's no drinking on my boat while we're underway.
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Old 17-06-2013, 14:30   #14
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Re: When Does a Irresponsible Skipper's Actions Become Criminal?

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What do you suggest beginners do? Not sail until they've mastered it? Do you want sailing licenses like we have driver's licenses?

You get some basic lessons, you get out there, you start making mistakes. It's inevitable, except for the drunk part.

Of course the families are suing, and we can discuss it here until we're blue in the face, but we don't have all the facts, and we won't really know whether it's a "trivial" lawsuit or not.

But angry, grieving people want someone to blame.
No, I don't suggest a sailing license, you will see that from my original question that even licensed skippers often appear to be guilty of poor seamanship. Like to skipper in San Diego sailing in the harbor main channel forcing a survey vessel, that was clearly working with the correct signals displayed, to take emergency action to avoid a collision.

If you want to learn how to sail and boat safely, why not find a decent mentor rather than stumble you way around? I take out novice boat owners whenever requested. Happy to do it.
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Old 17-06-2013, 14:31   #15
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Re: When Does a Irresponsible Skipper's Actions Become Criminal?

My theory is that one can largely avoid drunken boat-drivers by staying away from holiday gatherings of boaters. It also helps to assume every boat is commanded by someone ignorant unless otherwise demonstrated. Fortunately, most boats are operated competently.

Boats competently transiting Petaluma River, after holding position for 40 minutes for the D Street bridge (behind the camera) to open:

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