Boat Design Defects: NBC4 Investigation “Small Craft Advisory”

NBC Channel 4, Washington D.C., aired a series of stories on boat design defects on 16 August 2017.

Ryan Batchelder clipped from NBC Channel 4 image

Ryan Batchelder
clipped from NBC Channel 4 image

The series focuses on:

  1. Two families: (1) family of Ryan Batchelder, 7 year old boy killed by a boat propeller in Georgia in 2014, and (2) family of Niki Bell, struck by a boat propeller in California in 2006 at age 22.
  2. The two accidents, both individuals were washed overboard
  3. The two boat builders involved (Malibu and MasterCraft)
  4. The lack of Federal Regulation of the boating industry
  5. Court documents and comments by experts

NBC4 chose to release the story in a number of segments throughout the day with the tagline, “Small Craft Advisory” instead of as a free standing documentary.

Small Craft Advisory graphic by NBC4

Small Craft Advisory graphic by NBC4

They did a nice job of interviewing people and supplying several videos to support their findings.
While it likely made a lot of sense if you watched their various news programs dispersed throughout the day, it is challenging to try to recreate that experience from their website, Facebook page, or app.

Therefore we organized links to the various segments below.

  1. Experts Warn About Recreational Boats With Potentially Dangerous Flaws 6am News
  2. Consumer Investigation into Recreational Boats Mid Day News
  3. Recreational Boat Accidents Investigation Night News (before their 5pm and 6pm reports)
  4. Families in Florida and California Changed by 2 Tragic Boating Accidents 5pm News
  5. 2 Boating Accidents Reveal Practices Safety Experts Say Endanger People on the Water 6:30pm News
  6. Safety Experts Concerned About Boating Industry Regulations 11pm News
  7. Evidence Photos in Batchelder v. Malibu Boats Case
  8. Malibu Boats Response to Civil Complaint
  9. Horrific Accident Prompted Changes in Boating Industry 6:30pm News 17 August 2017

The regulations segment includes a nice on the water interview with John Adey of ABYC. NBC4 notes several times in their presentation that ABYC standards are voluntary standards and no one even checks up to see boat builders follow them or not. Yes, we are aware NMMA’s certified boat builder program requires certified builders to follow them.

Thanks to John Adey of ABYC for having the courage to meet with them on video. The U.S. Coast Guard failed to respond to requests for an interview. Mr. Adey noted the ABYC standards are much more extensive than USCG standards as shown by the size of the ABYC standards manual vs. the size of USCG requirements manual. He also said ABYC can respond quickly to changes in manufacturing, new technologies or safety issues. We suggest NBC4 ask Mr. Adey how long it took ABYC to get longer swim ladder lengths in the standards (to prevent prop injuries from people swinging their legs up to the ladder) and for those standards to finally take effect AFTER ABYC’s April 2009 testing them in a swimming pool during which a dramatic video showing the importance of this change was produced. The longer ladders went into ABYC H-41 standard in 2014 and may have then taken a while to actually take effect. That’s five or more years for a very simple change.

NBC4 launched the final piece the next evening, 17 August 2017. It was titled, “Horrific Accident Prompted Changes in Boating Industry”. Its opening sentence was, “A $30 million verdict against one the the largest boating manufacturers caused waves in the industry.” As if to say it was not the “horrific accident” that caused the industry to change, it was the $30 million award.

The final installment mentioned WSIA, the Water Sports Industry Association, an industry trade group for manufacturers and others in the towed water sports industry. WSIA’s attorney told reporters the MasterCraft case decision led to recommending bow capacity labels for all boats. Malibu hired a Risk Management Auditor as a result of the case. The video shows Jack Springer, CEO of Malibu Boats, saying the one recommendation he remembers from that auditor is that when you do your testing, to video it, and they have employed that recommendation.

Malibu maintains the boat involved in the Ryan Batchelder accident is safe. Per Malibu, it was used 14 years before the accident without incident, and was rented out twice after the accident without incident.

The reporters noted a lot of people think there should be more government oversight, but not the boating industry.

NBC4 has since pulled several of these stories together at Small Craft Advisory but we still prefer our listing above.

A big thanks to NBC channel 4 of Washington DC for doing the investigation and putting this story together with special thanks to Consumer Reporters Susan Hogan and Meredith Royster. The news media rarely covers safety issues with boats, especially not in areas where boating is a major contributor to the local economy.

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