Boating Safety in Press Release Images : Open Bow Wakesurfing Boat

Brunswick / Mercury Marine / MerCruiser recently released their new Bravo Four S forward facing stern drive. As part of the media coverage they released a number of images for the press / media to use while covering the release.

We noticed several of Mercury’s press release images for the Bravo Four S drive were taken with a Chaparral wakesurfing boat. Chaparral’s own website and identified it as Chaparral’s 23 foot Surf model.

Chaparral posts some images on their website that appear to be taken at the same time as Brunswick’s press images.

Chaparral’s Wakesurfing image

We will start with a photo from Chaparral’s website.

Chaparral boat 23 Surf Series 2021 model

Chaparral boat 23 Surf Series 2021 model

Above is the image as posted by Chaparral.

Below is a closeup of the 23 foot Chaparral Surf Series 2021 model cropped from the same image.

Chaparral boat 23 Surf Series 2021 model closeup

Chaparral boat 23 Surf Series 2021 model closeup

As seen in the two images above, there is a young boy alone in the bow.

We are not the open bow police, but we are aware many boat builders place various constraints on who can be in the bow when underway. Examples of those constraints include total weight, number of people, no children under a certain age without an adult in the bow, or nobody in the bow when underway. Those constraints may change from boat model to boat model and boat type to boat type within a given manufacturer.

Modern wakesurf boats often run with the bow way up in the air as they attempt to create a giant hole in the water for wake surfers to ride.

Reasons for keeping people out of the bow or limiting people in the bow include:

  1. The risk of people bouncing out or being slung out during a turn.
  2. Sometimes these vessels turn pretty quickly to go back and pickup fallen riders or to make sure other boats on the lake are aware of the position of the fallen rider.
  3. These boats can turn quickly enough to cross their own large wake.
  4. Not allowing people in the bow to obstruct the operator’s view. The operator may already find it challenging to view over the bow, even without people in it when wake surfing.

We find Chaparral’s specific image above to be pressing the limits of what a boat manufacturer would want users of their boats to be doing, especially novice operators. Several children have been ejected from open bow ski boats. Open bow wakesurfing boats appear to provide a far riskier environment in terms of bouncing them out.

Chaparral Operators Manual on Riding in Open Bow

We looked up what Chaparral says in their own operators manuals. Below is page 52 from Chaparral’s 2020 Surf Series boat operator manual.

Chaparral boat 2020 Surf Series operators manual pg.52

Chaparral boat 2020 Surf Series operators manual pg.52

A marked up closeup of page 52 is provided below.

Chaparral boat 2020 Surf Series operators manual pg.52 cropped

Chaparral boat 2020 Surf Series operators manual pg.52 cropped

According to Chaparral’s 2020 Surf Series manual above, they say nobody is to be riding in the open bow when underway. We suspect they recognized some of the challenges listed earlier on this page.

We note the operators manual above is for 2020 Surf Series models. Chaparral may have changed their open bow seating requirements for 2021, or specifically for the Bravo Four S forward facing drive, or specifically for this model. They may now allow people to ride in the bow. If they do, it still seems odd to let children ride up there without an adult. The particular boy shown in the photo above might be older than some age limit restriction.

Brunswick / Mercury Marine / MerCruiser Promotional Images

The image below is provided by Mercury Marine as part of their press materials for their new MerCruiser Four S forward facing drive that looks like it was taken at the same time as the Chaparral boat image above. We are going to look at a series of 5 images, 4 of which are cropped from the full Mercury press release image below.

Chaparral boat 2021 Surf Series 23 feet in Mercury Marine Press image - full image

Chaparral boat 2021 Surf Series 23 feet in Mercury Marine Press image – full image

At first look, it is obvious the young boy is way up in the air as the stern is plowing through the water to create a wake for the wake surfer. We do not see an adult with him, however it is possible an adult was lying down in the bow. However, other images in the same series do not indicate another adult on board. Again it seems like an image a marine manufacturer would not be providing with their media press kit materials.

We looked at the image again and were even more startled to find absolutely no one looking forward to see where the boat is going. We suggest Mercury Marine immediately removes this image from their portfolio.

Closeups of the Brunswick / Mercury Marine / MerCruiser image above

A series of images cropped from the Brunswick image above follows.

Chaparral boat 2021 Surf Series 23 feet in Mercury Marine Press image - crop1 image

Chaparral boat 2021 Surf Series 23 feet in Mercury Marine Press image – crop1 image

Many water ski safety and tubing safety discussions note it takes a minimum three people for those activities. One to operate the boat, a spotter watching the person being towed or riding the surf, and the person being towed or wakesurfing. In this image everybody is acting like a spotter. Everybody on board has their eyes on the wake surfer. While it makes for a nice action shot, it is incompatible with safety operating a boat.

Chaparral boat 2021 Surf Series 23 feet in Mercury Marine Press image - crop2 image

Chaparral boat 2021 Surf Series 23 feet in Mercury Marine Press image – crop2 image

As we begin to zoom into the image, it is not obvious that the lady or the boat operator is wearing a life jacket. They may be wearing fanny packs or some other inflatable, but they are not wearing conventional wake boarding / wakesurfing life jackets / PFDs.

Chaparral boat 2021 Surf Series 23 feet in Mercury Marine Press image - crop3 image

Chaparral boat 2021 Surf Series 23 feet in Mercury Marine Press image – crop3 image

A closer look continues to show everyone is looking back and no one is looking where they are going. That is a recipe for disaster. We still cannot see life jackets on the lady or the boat operator. We know many boat builders still show images without life jackets and it is not a legal requirement in most jurisdictions, but it shows the boat builder’s concern for safety if everybody is visibly wearing some sort of life jacket or PFD in their promotional images.

It is possible the boat operator only turned around quickly for the photo op, but his body is rotated in the seat, his left arm over the back of the seat, and his right hand on the far left side of the steering wheel like he plans on being like this a while. They may be shooting these photos on Lake X or someplace temporarily closed to other vessels.

In addition to nobody looking where they are going, they have the boy in the very front of the bow and nobody is watching him either.

Chaparral boat 2021 Surf Series 23 feet in Mercury Marine Press image - crop4 image

Chaparral boat 2021 Surf Series 23 feet in Mercury Marine Press image – crop4 image

The final image above is zoomed in on the young boy riding in the front of the open bow. While riding up there at all may be a bad idea, it would be safer with your back against the seats just in front of the windshield. The very front of the bow has the greatest vertical accelerations which can lead to being ejected. We have seen media coverage of several people and especially children entrapped on current stern drive counterrotating propellers If you were ejected underway with a forward facing counterrotating propeller, a young boy wearing a life jacket could be struck by and entrapped on the counterrotating propeller under the boat with no access to air and no easy way for rescuers to hold his head up.

How Challenging it Can be to Capture Promotional Images

We are not throwing anybody under the bus. We have at least some concept of how hard it can be to get “perfect” images for the media while also:

  • Creating some sort of photos and videos list well in advance. You are not just wildly taking pictures.
  • Scheduling the event with the site and everybody involved including photographers, athletes, actors, technicians, and mechanics.
  • Packing up everything for the shoot including making sure you have all the boats, products, camera gear, digital storage media, means to view the photos in high resolution on site, people, supplies, food, water, toilets, clothing, life jackets, makeup staff, gas, diesel, and oils, you need on site as sites are often remote. A major photo shoot is like an expedition.
  • Meeting all the various safety requirements of press images (everybody wearing a life jacket, attaching kill switch lanyards, nothing reckless going on, controlling boat speeds, no drinks that could be conceived to be alcohol, the boat is properly loaded, speeds are proper for the conditions, etc.)
  • Creating images that attract the view of readers (something interesting is happening, nice scenery, pretty girls, showing families, everybody smiling, etc.)
  • Making sure everything that is supposed to be in focus is, and everything that is not supposed to be in focus is not in focus.
  • Avoid getting too wild with the pretty girls and offending some viewers
  • Restricting shooting hours to the “golden hour” when the sun is just coming up or about to go down, or to cloudy days like one of the images above.
  • Keeping people, boats, and other stuff out of the background.
  • Shooting these perfect images from a chase boat, helicopter, or drone during the perfect time of day to avoid glare.
  • Making boats are clean and spotless.
  • Viewing the images as they are collected to make sure you get high quality images for each shot listed on the shot list
  • Capturing some videos as well.
  • Keeping chase boats, helicopters, drones out of the image and keeping their shadows and wakes out of the image.
  • Taking hundreds to thousands of images to get the few you need.
  • Packing everything up and making sure you get back home with absolutely everything you took to the site.
  • Once they get back home, a whole new sequence of events begin as the photos are culled, digitally edited, enhanced, cropped, and made ready for release.

The list above is just a partial list of what they are trying to accomplish.

Completing the check list above while showcasing your products in riveting images within the time allotted takes a special breed of people. Our hats are off to them.

It is easy to imagine how an unsafe photo could find its way through now and then. Some businesses have multiple people review their product press images for safety against a checklist. They can still get caught by something not on their checklist. We suspect it is best to have as many people review the images as practically possible.

Our Previous Coverage of Media Photos

We first wrote about attention to safety in boat media photos back in 1997 at IMTEC when Zodiac put some information about their efforts to quietly showcase safety in photos in their their press kits.

Since then we have written about some advertising images getting out of hand. For example, we covered some questionable marketing images by Yamaha, mostly outside the United States in 2014.

Those looking for some tips and checklists to make sure their photos show safe practices may find the National Boating Safety Law Administrators NASBLA seal of safe boating practices checklist for media materials helpful.

In Brunswick’s defense, we have heard Mr. Pete Chisholm of Mercury Marine speak extemporaneously at the National Boating Safety Advisory Council (NBSAC) of Mercury’s efforts to make sure their media / press photos show safe operation at NBSAC as he compared some modern media photos to those from long ago. The industry is doing much better than they did in the past.

Thanks to Brunswick and Chaparral for making many high quality promotional images available. Obviously only a few of those images have major safety issues. We congratulate Brunswick and Chaparral on their many images illustrating safe operational practices and encourage their continued diligence in doing so.

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