In the late afternoon on August 30, 2016, a group of eight kayakers set off from the dock at West 44th Street in New York City for a guided tour along the Hudson River. The intended route was south, along the waterfront of midtown Manhattan, then southwest down the river. As the tour, passed the New York Waterways ferry piers at West 39th Street, a commercial passenger ferry backed out of its berth, then turned west to head toward New Jersey. The kayak tour guide attempted to signal the ferry captain by waiving his arms, but the captain later told investigators that because of the glare of the setting sun he did not see the paddlers in time to avoid colliding with them. Three kayakers, including the guide, were injured in the collision—two of them seriously. The ferry captain alerted authorities and used his vessel and crew to help rescue the kayakers. New York Waterways did not learn until several hours later that all kayakers had been rescued and accounted for.
The New York City accident illustrates the dangers of recreational and the commercial vessels operating on shared waterways, and several stakeholders had previously discussed with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) their concerns rising from an increase in encounters between these types of vessels. Given the number of encounters currently observed between commercial and recreational vessels, the predicted increase in the number of such encounters, and feedback from marine industry representatives, the NTSB sought to better understand the scope of the issue and determine the extent to which the safety of our nation’s waterways is impacted. This report provides the NTSB’s findings as well as recommendations to improve shared waterway safety.
- Harbor safety committees can substantively improve safety between commercial and recreational vessels if risks are regularly identified, practices are developed and implemented to mitigate these risks, and these practices are shared with stakeholders and other harbor safety committees.
- All recreational vessel operators need to attain a minimum level of boating safety education to mitigate the various risks associated with the type of vessel being operated.
- The Coast Guard should renew its efforts to seek legislative authority to require recreational boaters on waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to obtain education that meets National Association of State Boating Law Administrators or equivalent standards.
- A Guide to Multiple Use Waterway Management should be reviewed and updated at regular intervals.
As a result of this report, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendations:
- Establish a process whereby, at regular intervals, all harbor safety committees identify the safety risks posed by the interaction of commercial and recreational vessels in their respective geographic areas; where necessary, develop and implement practices to mitigate those risks; and share successful practices among all harbor safety committees. (M-17-1)
- Seek statutory authority that requires all recreational boat operators on waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to demonstrate completion of an instructional course or an equivalent that meets the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators standards. (M-17-2)
- Work with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and the National Water Safety Congress to review and update A Guide to Multiple Use Waterway Management at regular intervals. (M-17-3)
- Work with the National Water Safety Congress and the US Coast Guard to review and update A Guide to Multiple Use Waterway Management at regular intervals. (M-17-4)
- Work with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and the US Coast Guard to review and update A Guide to Multiple Use Waterway Management at regular intervals. (M-17-5)
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