Lack of channel lighting blamed for boat hitting reef

| 07/12/2010

(CNS): The captain of the boat which struck the reef this weekend after a fishing trip is happy to be alive but has revealed that he and the six other people aboard the boat who were rescued on Saturday night could have avoided their ordeal if the channel was properly lit. The RCIPS air and marine units rescued 4 adults and 3 children after the 28-foot boat they were in ran aground on the reef in the South Sound area around 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Leighton Rankine told Cayman27 that some of the channel lights were out and have been for sometime, as he offered to help raise money to repair them. The Port Authority has confirmed that the lights have not been working since the summer as a result of high seas.

Sgt Clive Smith from the Marine Unit said the boat had hit the reef instead of coming through the channel because lights were out, which was not uncommon when there has been bad weather as it is hard to keep them working.

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  1. Eyes Wide Shut says:

    Yeah, it’s the Port Authority’s fault………blame them, that makes sense. Last time i checked it was the captain who was responsible for the safety of crew and vessel, sure proper lighting might have prevented this accident from occurring but local knowledge, skill and experience IS invaluable. Think about it, the Marine Section was able to make it out to the stricked boat and bring the occupants to shore without incident themselves so a "competent mariner" like Mr. Rankine should have had no problems. I’m quite sure if the Marine Sect. had done their job properly they would have carried out a safety check on Mr. Rankin’s vessel and would have discovered that his vessel was not equiped with the necessary safety equipment as required by the law but i guess that would have been the Port Authority’s fault too.

    Oh, in regards to the comment earlier that said "Thank God for the helicopter", I say "woohooooo", "way to go"!

    That’s two successfull "rescues" now. The first one was "Renegade"  which was "found" exactly where it was supposed to be, at anchor and fishing on Pickle Bank; although it had no power it was not at drift or sinking and the weather was good. The second "rescue" was this one, a vessel on the reef but a stones throw from shore.

    Accidents do happen but we all need to be able to accept responsibility for our actions and stop blaming everyone else.

  2. Brac Errrr says:

    Let this be a warning to all boaters! But first let us thank God that this did not end up tragically. When I read that there were children on board I felt compelled to speak to Mr. Rankine’s apparent lack of a sense of personal responsibility for the incident.

    Why is it that people do not accept due responsibility for their own poor decisions?  When you are the master of a vessel, the lives of the passengers and crew are YOUR responsibility! So act accordingly.

    Subject to the reliability of the report here on CNS and subject to revisions of my opinion if new or unreported circumstances are revealed: I refuse to accept that the vessel’s master is absolved of responsibility solely because of defective marker lights. The events lead to the conclusion that he was not very well familiar with the channel and he made a very bad and foolish decision to enter what he should have known to be a hazardous channel with all the lights not on. I am a bit weary of people blaming government for all their woes, and even sicker of the popular philosophy that government must protect us from our own foolhardy actions.

    If Mr. Rankine knew the lights were having problems and he was not experienced in navigating inbound without the marker lights, then he never should have ventured out. Or he should have returned before dark. If he "got caught" out after dark (poor decision making) and had any doubts about the safety of navigating inbound without lighted navigational aids, then a minimum "duty of care" decision would preclude coming inbound at that channel. Period! The fact that there were children on board makes his irresponsibility even more chilling.

    I would assume he had a radio and possibly a cell phone. Better to call and have a rescue boat assist him in finding the channel, than calling for a rescue boat to pluck people (and possibly dead children) out of the water after an accident. Other comments here indicate that the lights have been a persistent problem. If a call for help was made in every instance a boat master was in a similar situation and trying to navigate inbound with no lights, such emergency calls would focus more sober government attention to the problem.

    I have been navigating the waters of Cayman Brac in recreational vessels for many years. The main channel on the South Side used to be a very treacherous run especially with a cross sea and certainly at night as the channel was not marked and fairly narrow. It runs at an angle through the reef and has a bit of a crook in it, with rocky points of submerged reef on either side. Work has been done over the years but you still have to do a bit of tricky maneuvering and have knowledge of the channel to get in safely at night.

    Once you are past the "point of no return" and committed to entry inbound, at night or in bad weather you better know the channel or you could be in plenty of trouble. Even more notorious is the South Hole channel in Little Cayman. I would not even consider entering that channel at night, lights or no, as I am not familiar enough with it to try a run in the dark. But Mr. Bert, Mr. Jack, Mr. Algie, and Mr. Sam,  in their day could probably have run in and out blindfolded.

    Long before the present lighted range markers and lighted lateral marker buoys demarcated the Brac channel, it had no navigation aids at all.  Boaters used to put up makeshift sticks and poles. Waves knocked them down constantly. I’ve seen bamboo and bleach bottle buoys as markers. Then someone secured PVC pipes on the rock points. Next came unlit navigation buoys and day beacons and then onshore rangingmarkers. Eventually the buoys were proper construction and colour, and the ranging markers were lighted.

    The hazard was the fact that ranging markers gave only a straight line track, when in fact you had to make a slight turn off the indicated ranging track to avoid hitting the rocks in the dark. At night the channel was especially risky. With a cross sea in the dark, it still is not a run for the inexperienced skipper.

    In later years when street lights became more common, the northernmost ranging light would become obscured by the glare of a streetlight just as you were at the critical commitment point inbound. Finally the Port Authority installed lighted lateral channel markers and proper lighted beacons. Things became a bit safer, though not a walk in the park by any means.

    Countless Bracker boatmen, myself included, have navigated this channel at night, with navigational aids and without, in bad weather, following seas, cross seas, and otherwise. But those of us who do so safely know this channel very well and are confident of making it in without incident. On more than one occasion, due to darkness and weather, I have had to abort an inbound run and head around the West End to the Bucanneer’s (Capt. Bertie’s) Barcadare. NO lights there, ever!

    In regard to the Brac Main Channel, over the years I have heard accounts of outbound or inbound boats getting bumped bottoms, dented props, broken shear pins, torn skegs, bent rudders and other damage. There has been the rare grounding. However, in virtually every such case of "boat versus reef" that I am familiar with, such accidents were attributable to mechanical problems or someone making an unwise decision. According to some accounts bad sea conditions contributed in some cases, but no one forced the skipper in question to make the run in or out in under such conditions.

    The majority of recreational and small-vessel commercial boating accidents are caused by inattention, lack of experience in the existing conditions, or poor decisions made by the skipper. In the case reported here, I am of the firm opinion that certainly the latter two situations existed. He admitted that he knew the lights were down. The lack of channel lights should have motivated the skipper to forgo a night return, or to call for help to return, or to seek another landing spot.

    Was Mr. Rankine running at night with no search light or flashlight on board? (Improperly equipped for the expected conditions). I have navigated in and out of the East End channel in Little Cayman at night, but would have never done so without a powerful light to illuminate my way.  It a grave mistake to run a boat at night without proper lighting.

    Here is a sobering thought: He was cruising with children on board. What if a child fell overboard and was rendered unconscious? Lacking a light to find them, they would have drowned before rescue. Always carry a light on board!

    An excellent alternative opening line of the article could read: "The captain of the boat which struck the reef this weekend after a fishing trip is happy to be alive but has revealed that he and the six other people aboard the boat who were rescued on Saturday night could have avoided their ordeal if the boat had an experienced captain capable of making sound decisions concerning the safety of his vessel, crew and passengers."  Or how about, "Lack of a proper light caused boat to run aground"?  Bear in mind that the report seems to indicate that Mr. Rankine did not get into problems inside the channel, he missed the whole bloomin’ channel and hit the reef instead!

    Of course I can understand his attitude as he could be sued for negligence if injury had resulted, and at the very least, he will be subject to much derision by his peers and the public for the accident. Any account of exculpating circumstances (excuses) would help deflect blame.

    If this had been an airplane and the pilot crashed because he decided to try to land on an unlighted runway when he had other safer alternatives, the pilot would have been crucified by the press, the public, and the court – regardless of who was responsible for the lights.

    This should serve as a stern warning to other boatmen: You are responsible for the lives of your crew and passengers!  Make sure you have proper experience and training. Carry proper safety gear and ensure you have the boat and equipment to meet the conditions you will be in. In all but the smoothest conditions and all but the safest channels, make sure all persons on board put on their life vests before the boat approaches or enters a channel or barcadare, both outbound and inbound. Likewise for running in choppy seas or bad weather.

    If you are the least bit unsure of your or your vessel’s capability to safely meet the conditions you face when you are at sea, you have three alternatives: try to return to port safely, try to seek better conditions, and/or call for help  – BEFORE an accident happens. You poor decisions could lead to damage to your vessel, injury or loss of life.  Personal guilt, injury and/or a lawsuit could ruin your life; your death would cast a really bad light on your seamanship skills.

    Whoever is responsible for maintaining navigational markers  – I believe it is the Port Authority – is gravely remiss in not immediately attending to reported problems with the lights. It a shameful dereliction of their express duty. Those responsible should be demoted or fired. The Cayman Islands Government is notorious for accepting, and as a result, delivering poor performance. For all his bluster, Premier Bush is a mediocre leader who turns a blind eye to mediocre results. Which is one reason why his ship, the "HMHS Cayman Islands",  is heading for the reef, full steam ahead.

    To the skipper, Mr. Rankine, I say: Thank God no one got seriously injured. But, like the Clint Eastwood character, "Dirty Harry" said in the movie of the same name, "A man’s gotta know his own limitations". If you exceed your own limitations, expect life to slap you in the face. I hope you have learned a valuable lesson in seamanship.

  3. Tim Ridley says:

    Having lived in South Sound for 20 years until Ivan arrived, I can confirm that the channel must be approached with extreme caution, both on the way out and on the way in, as conditions change rapidly and it can be treacherous even in daylight. Mr Rankine is by no means the first and certainly will not be the last skipper to hit the reef. Proper markers and proper lighting would help, but by no means guarantee a safe outcome.

  4. judean peoples front says:

    The fault is firmly resting with someone else here as those channel markers should have been OPERATIONAL.

    Since the removal of very large ELECTRONIC boards telling me to use my indicator signal at roundabouts, I have destroyed two Honda civics and dropped a blackberry into my porridge at least once.

    Where will it stop? If SECURE and SOLID barriers are not placed around the coastline and canals IMMEDIATELY before we know it, people will be driving into them.


  5. Anonymous says:

    Its a tricky channel at the best of time, and any one of us could have made a mistake, but we all know the lights arnt working .Without GPS or a searchlight, why did he venture out and return after dark with three children on board. The Captain of a vessel is responsible for the safety of those on board, never mind the contributing factors.

    • Anonymous says:

      GPS is not to be used for navigation of a channel. It is basic and can be out by several meters ie more than the width of the channel the only true navigation device when sailing blind is Radar. We have offered safety courses to the law makers but until they police maritime law no one wants to spend the money doing them. until more people die nothing will be done. Its very sad for an Island that always quote’s its maritime history.

  6. Anonymous says:

    When leaving the reef channel one needs to be aware of the condition of the lights and be prepared to deal with that situation if they choose to return after dark.

    Everyone knows the light system is not reliable here and one needs to be responsible for their boat and passengers.

    Thank goodness no one was hurt.


  7. Blasta Ebanks says:

    What we needs to be doin is gettin rid of them there pesky reefs. Blast that ting right out and brings in some big ol mega yacht. Then we woodent hads to worries about no boat runnin up on no reef or nuttin like that.


  8. Anonymous says:

    While the comments concerning the operator’s responsibility are for the most part valid, I have noted the same problems with the North Sound channel markers on many occasions over the course of many years.  One could make a similar case for airborne navigators’ responsibilities.  With the emphasis on watersports and marine activities in these islands, and the decision that was taken to MARK and LIGHT the various channels, it makes sense to maintain the systems properly in order to gain maximum benefit from them. 

  9. Anonymous says:

    ‘caymanians ares ome of the greatest seafarers in the world’…….. zzzz

  10. Anonymous says:

    For decades many of Cayman’s nighttime navigational aids have been missing, unlit/broken or in the wrong place (behind the reef).  Local boaters must also avoid the strands of unlit CUC markers at night.  I bought a GPS, not because I am worried I’ll get lost, but so that I can mark the myriad of hazards in the north sound for safe night travel!  Of course, for a few bucks these could all be outfitted with solar powered safety lights, that is, if any department would accept responsibility for their maintenance and care.  I would gladly sponsor any private group that wished to accept that responsibility…any takers?

  11. Joe King says:

    The prudent mariner should not rely on one form of navigation device.

    The lights are to assist in navigation! The fault IS the opperator of the vessel.

  12. Anonymous says:

    It is also very common to find the markers out of position particularly in the smaller channels. Maybe they need larger anchors. No one seems to take this serious.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Just a thought, but had it been me, knowing that the channel lights were not working, I would have made sure to get back in before dark, no?

  14. Anonymous says:

    OK fine, I agree that the markers should be lit and working properly, but isn’t it also one’s responsibility that if they venture out after dust they have sufficient spot lights or something that allows them to come back safely?

    For example, if a traffic light doesn’t work and you get in an accident, are you going to blame the government for the traffic light not working, or did you perhaps not exercise the care one should have?

    • Anonymous says:

      I certainly would blame the Government if the traffic light hadnt been fixed for 6 months and it was their responsibility to maintain it!

  15. GR says:

    While having navigational aids (the lit channel markers) makes for a safer passage,  I was under the impression it was still the skipper’s ultimate responsibility to ensure the safe passage of the vessel.  Surely the skipper should have acted with due care and could have reduced speed, had more people "on watch" (doing look out), used any devices available (GPS, radar) and if still uncertain diverted to another jetty?

  16. Patricia X says:

    Let me get my hand round this.  The Captain KNEW that some of the lights were out and still decided he could navigate through the channel after dark?  That is not the Port Authority’s fault, it is foolhardiness and some would say arrogance.

  17. Anonymous says:

    We’ve had bad weather since early summer when the lights last worked?? Capt Leighton should sue the Port Authority for failing to carry out basic maintenance. Its called a Duty of Care, and the Port appear to have dropped the ball badly. Port Chair for a Mac Peoples award?

    • Legal Beagle says:

      Two points:

      1) If you know that something is not working properly then you can’t reasonably rely on it.

      2) Contributory negligence.

  18. Anonymous Woman says:

    Thanks to Mr Rankine for pointing out the absence of lights at the South Sound reef entrance.  Hopefully they will now be repaired.  It is not an easy entrance or exit even in good weather.  These buoys get hit all the time.  It is good to see the replacement markers on the way through the Duck Pond into Rackleys (North Sound Estates).  Hope they last through the Christmas season!

  19. KWB says:

     Just Last week I lodged a similar complaint on the conditions of the channel markers on the north sound channels. Its a shame this had to happen when having the correct working markers may have prevented this accident.