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Old 03-18-2017, 03:54 PM   #1
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Napa River Boat Collision

I had a wild Saturday night last week aboard FlyWright. It was Day 4 of what turned out to be a 6-day fishing/cruising trip around my local waters in ideal weather conditions. Mid-70's temps and light to no winds. I had texted my friends Doug and his neighbor Joe who live on the Napa River to invite them to fish but they were busy with other commitments.

I was anchored near light 9 on the Napa River waiting for the next hungry sturgeon to come along. This was the night we'd change our clocks to Daylight Saving Time. Around 7PM, I decided to just move my clock ahead the hour since I was planning to go to bed early that night anyway. Might as well get it out of the way now while I'm thinking of it, I reasoned. It would later contribute to some clock confusion, so I'll never do that again!!

At 8:50, I watched a boat cruise by me in the darkness going about 25-30 kts. He displayed normal running lights. The sky was clear and the moon was bright. As he got about 1/4 mile past me, I heard a loud BANG and the engine stopped its high revs. I then watched as this boat backtrack a short distance on the river where it approached another boat that had no lights visible to me. I shined my spotlight in the area but could not see much detail in the binoculars.

A few minutes later, a USCG call came across Ch 16 stating that there was a report of a collision on the Napa River and any boats in the area, please render assistance if able. I immediately replied that I had heard the collision and stated my position and the position of the apparent collision, light 11. I then hauled anchor and proceeded to the accident site.

When I arrived, my spotlight illuminated an anchored boat that had impact damage. As I approached, a police chopper arrived and illuminated the area with his spotlight. The noise was deafening. I was sounding my horn as I approached to signal any victims that I was in the area. As I slowed at the vessel, the helo departed allowing me to hear if there were any calls for help. I saw no persons on the boat or in the water as I circled the boat several times.

I reported back to the USCG what I had found and they asked if it was illuminated, sinking or a hazard to navigation. No lights, does not appear to be sinking and no apparent damage near the waterline and it's a hazard sitting about 100 ft into the narrow channel near light 11. I added that it appeared that whoever was aboard was transported elsewhere by the moving vessel. They asked if I could remain on site until they arrived to tow the vessel, so I set anchor up current (down river) from the vessel and set the rode length to about 50 ft off its bow. My LED fishing spreader lights illuminated the vessel as I waited for the LEOs to arrive.

As I waited, another vessel approached the vessel slowly. I asked if this was his boat and I got the reply, "Al? Is that you?" I replied, "Joe, is that you?" It was and he told me that the driver of the other boat in the collision was my buddy (and his neighbor) Doug! Talk about a small world!!

Doug was OK, there were a man and woman on the anchored boat that Doug picked up from their boat (no one in the water) to take to his house to meet the ambulance. Apparently the woman had a broken wrist or arm and a head laceration. The two men were not injured.

They were met at Doug's house by an ambulance and several cop cars. Medical aid was rendered and statements were taken. Blood alcohol tests were administered...all negative.

Two hrs later, I'm still hanging on the hook watching over the wreckage. Of course, resetting my clock only added confusion in my mind to what time it really was and how long I'd really been there. The USCG told me that Cal Fire was sending a boat since their CG assets were tied up. Cal Fire called me to say that they would be there in another hour, so I told them I'd re-anchor in the area but in a safer spot to spend the night.

I set the hook at the edge of the channel, a safe distance from light 11 and set about getting ready for bed. Naturally, I got distracted by something on the internet as I reviewed my email one last time and before you know it, it's 12 midnight. I look up and here's a boat approaching my port side with blue flashing lights! Wellll...Hellllo there!!

It's the USCG here to tow the boat back to Vallejo Marina, home to USCG Station Vallejo and yours truly. I showed them the vessel's location with my super-duper, high power flashlight and they went to work assessing the situation and making plans to move the vessel.

Just then, the Cal Fire boat arrives on scene and it sounded a bit like the Abbot and Costello skit, Who's on First. Thank God the USCG was there to handle it with professionalism and care. They boarded the vessel and determined that it would be better to operate the vessel under its own power in trail of the USCG boat while one Coastie kept a light trained on the bow to confirm it was not taking on water in any damaged areas. By 1AM, they were on their way out of the area slowly. So much for going to bed early!!

The next day, I visited Doug at his house, tying up at his neighbor's dock, and saw the damage done to his 24 ft Cuddy Cabin boat (similar to a Maxim like this...)



He told me he started taking on water immediately after the collision as he heard the bilge pump running right away, but he didn't know the source. As we walked around his boat on a hydro-hoist lift at his home dock, I found an area where the hull had separated from the cap and the stbd-side port light glass was missing. (I immediately found it inside the cuddy.) We also launched my dink to aid in removing the wad of fishing line around his prop and assess the rest of the hull. A few scrapes and gouges, but no apparent breaches of the hull. By all reports, Doug's boat went right over the top of the anchored vessel, becoming airborne before coming to a stop.

Monday I returned to my marina to pump out and put FW to bed. As I approached the fuel dock, there sat the other vessel, so I tied up to its dock and got some pics.







It's amazing that no one was more seriously hurt or killed. When Doug told the other boater that he didn't see him until he was right upon him and asked if he had his anchor light on, the guy replied, "I have my cellphone." Apparently he thinks that's sufficient to alert other boaters to his position anchored in the channel!

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Old 03-18-2017, 04:10 PM   #2
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Another good example of what can be the consequence of stupidity. Hopefully no one was seriously injured and your friend is safe. This could have end as a disaster, he was lucky in his drama.
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Old 03-18-2017, 04:19 PM   #3
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Wow, and the Coasties got that back under it's own power.

Not having a 25 kt boat or much experience cruising on a river, is it typical to operate at that speed at night?
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Old 03-18-2017, 05:08 PM   #4
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'Bout time this story was told.

Certainly an exciting night! Lucky no one was seriously hurt.

Something to support going slow, especially at night.
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Old 03-18-2017, 05:14 PM   #5
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Yes some people run 25 to 30 knots in the dark. I would not. I have done lots of night time exercises and spent probably several hundred hours underway at night and would not run at that speed because things happen to quickly for most people to process before the stuff hits the fan. Even if the anchored boat had had a proper anchor light at that speed it would have been difficult to see it and figure out what it was before the collision. Not knowing the area where this happened makes it impossible to make a call, but generally 25 knots at night is too fast IMO.
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Old 03-18-2017, 05:18 PM   #6
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Greetings,
Mr. mp. "Something to support going slow, especially at night." FULLY agree about reducing speed at night but every case is different.
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Old 03-18-2017, 05:33 PM   #7
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My understanding is that this event occurred just south of where the Napa River narrows at Edgerley Island; however, the lower (southern) Napa River north of Mare Island Strait is wide but the navigable portion is very narrow. During daylight hours small outboard/open-boat fishermen often anchor in/near the navigable channel, sometimes causing me to wonder whether I'm leaving the channel to avoid them.
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Old 03-18-2017, 05:34 PM   #8
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Wow, and the Coasties got that back under it's own power.

Not having a 25 kt boat or much experience cruising on a river, is it typical to operate at that speed at night?
In the waters off northern baja / southern California, tuna fishing begins at daybreak, often 60 miles offshore. Lots of trailer boats launch at 2 or 3 am, then travel at 25 knots to the grounds. Conversely, I time my departure to travel at 8.5 knots and arrive at grey light. In those circumstances, I keep my cockpit and boat deck flood lights on so I am hard to miss, but it always amazes me how often I am passed within 100' by one of these jokers in the middle of the night. And I intentionally set my destination for a few miles from the high spot to which I am headed, so its not like we are on the same course. I am convinced that some of them are attracted to bright lights like moths.
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Old 03-18-2017, 05:39 PM   #9
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Night vision (eyes or electronic) plus ambient conditions dictate speed, plus familiarity of the waterway.

I have no problem running 20 knots where I am comfy, but that's me, my eyes and experience.

Can't say for this operator, but the results would suggest he overstepped his abilities.

An anchor or other light may have prevented the incident, but an electrical emergency could have resulted in an unlit boat that you still have to avoid. So for the conditions, excessive speed will likely be a causal factor.
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Old 03-18-2017, 05:41 PM   #10
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When anchored, best to have some lights on beyond the required anchor light so to make one more visible. Suggest some subdued interior lighting. For me, low-intensity lighting in the pilothouse works.
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Old 03-18-2017, 06:01 PM   #11
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I rarely run above hull speed at night. Only times are in local waters where I know the hazards, and when the moon or sky gives me a clear view of the field ahead. Even offshore I tend to pull it back to hull speed once the twilight is gone.

Scary stuff, glad all survived.
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Old 03-18-2017, 06:28 PM   #12
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I rarely run above hull speed at night. Only times are in local waters where I know the hazards, and when the moon or sky gives me a clear view of the field ahead. Even offshore I tend to pull it back to hull speed once the twilight is gone.

Scary stuff, glad all survived.
Yeah, same here. You just never know when there will be something there. An outboard with a stalled engine, an anchored boat with no lights (or something about the brightness of an exhausted firefly), some kayakers who misjudged how long it would take them to get back against the tide, or even a log. (I have encountered each and every one of the above at one time or another).

Just throttle back, turn on some soft music, and be aware.

All that said, of course I am talking about local conditions, and have no earthly idea what things are like over there where Al gave his interesting report.
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Old 03-18-2017, 06:36 PM   #13
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Well done Al! Quick thinking, quick response,good coordination. Doubtless a great comfort to those involved.
The analysis comes later. Fortunately all involved are around to take part, and learn.
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Old 03-18-2017, 06:39 PM   #14
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Well done Al! Quick thinking, quick response,good coordination. Doubtless a great comfort to those involved.
The analysis comes later. Fortunately all involved are around to take part, and learn.
Al is a man of positive action. One can count on him.
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Old 03-18-2017, 06:52 PM   #15
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On the road it is actually only legal to travel at speed conducive to safety. Boat pilot should operate under the same premise. Whether or not a boat in the way is lit or not [there are several reasons why lights may be off] the pilot of the moving boat needs to have enough control [speed moving] and equipment [really good spotlight] to see the unlit boat and avoid it.

This is not rocket science. It is common sense and care for others [as well as for oneself] on the water.

Nice job on the assistance Al!
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Old 03-18-2017, 06:54 PM   #16
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Al is a man of positive action. One can count on him.
I know that about Al and I agree with you.
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Old 03-18-2017, 07:32 PM   #17
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Both COLREGS and Inland Water Regs say the same thing:
"Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions."

In my opinion 25mph at night is not a safe speed in inland waters regardless of prevailing conditions. Lost count long ago of boats without running lights.
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Old 03-18-2017, 07:35 PM   #18
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Both COLREGS and Inland Water Regs say the same thing:
"Every vessel shall at all times proceed at a safe speed so that she can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions."

25mph at night is not a safe speed.
Don't make your limitations everyones......

Prevailing conditions are the key.....some nights and areas, it is no problem.

If I could see and avoid crab pot floats, I didn't have and issue with not seeing other vessels.

Plus the Colregs were written to see and avoid vessels with lights, even kayaks are suppose to shine a light in your direction.

But aside from that, prevailing conditions exist where seeing unlit objects is possible at 25 knots.

And where is the line drawn? 15? 18? 20? 10? 5?....every boat and crew is different.
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Old 03-18-2017, 07:37 PM   #19
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Don't make your limitations everyones......

Prevailing conditions are the key.....some nights and areas, it is no problem.
In the Napa River? I don't think so.
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Old 03-18-2017, 07:42 PM   #20
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In the Napa River? I don't think so.
But that is not what you posted...you made a general statement.

An honest question....How is the Napa River different than any other stretch of dark water?

Is it the same for the whole length?
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