Sunday, September 23, 2007

Runaway boats

Dave Drenick of Vessel Assist Dana Point raises a good question after viewing this video on YouTube:

Perhaps you have already heard the story; a 20' outboard center console has tossed its only occupant out into the Connecticut River, and the boat is making circles on its own. I guess the day shape for "Underway, not under command" would be appropriate. Anyway, a number of differing agencies spent a good deal of time and effort to stop this boat.

At some point, a small SeaTow boat manages to get a line on the runaway, possibly onto a stearn cleat. The SeaTow boat promptly gets rolled over, dumping two more people into the river. How do you explain that to the insurance company?

Eventually, someone fouls the runaway's prop with a line, and the drama comes to an end.

Now, this story is not meant to condemn SeaTow; indeed, they were there trying to help, and the poor decisions the crew made were probably the result of having tried just about everything else to bring the circling menace to a stop. So, back to Dave's question.

What is the best strategy for dealing with a runaway boat? The traditional tactic of laying a line in the path of the runaway has proven to be a dubious solution, especially for outboards, whose skeg seems to push the line under the prop. This tactic has one thing in its favor: assuming you are prepared to cut the line you drag, there is little danger of getting tripped or injury to the assistance crew.

Some other ideas: get inside the circle, come alongside and hit the shift/throttle lever with a boat hook. Get inside the circle and transfer a person across to the runaway (presumably this technique would be used with those of us driving inflatables). Instead of trying to place a line in the path of the runaway, how about a large plastic trash bag, or a plastic blue tarp? If it fails to foul the prop, it might block the intake and cause the motor to overheat at least. Finally, why not just let the thing run out of gas, assuming its not threatening anyone? Set up a safety perimeter to keep traffic away, and let it cirle for hours?

Of course, using the kill switch lanyard would prevent any need to respond to runaways....

Your ideas and proven techniques are welcome.