Comments on Malibu Boats Safety Alert : Bow Seating
This post will discuss the history behind Malibu’s bow swamping Safety Alert, comments concerning the Safety Alert, and possible future implications.
Long ago, some ski boat manufacturers began to offer open bow boats with seating in the bow. Some were referred to as “hot tubs” because the bow was closed in from behind by the helm. To get between bow seating and the main seating of the boat, you had to open the windshield and crawl over the helm.
See the Malibu Response LX image below:
As early as 1994, rec.sports.waterski on UseNet (pre modern Internet forums) discussed the safety of children in the open bow of ski boats. See “Open vs. Closed bow” John A. Knapp. rec.boats.waterski. 13 November 1994.
Ski boats turned to downward sloping bows and low freeboard (distance from gunnel to the water). This allows the operator to see over the bow a little better during takeoff. It also provides an aesthetic side view of the vessel. However, these features make it easier to take water over the bow and experience bow swamping.
The Mastercraft Accident
July 9, 2006, Bethany Mercer (then Bethany Wallenburg) and Niki Bell were on Lake Oroville (California) in a MasterCraft X-45 wake board boat. Both women were in the open bow. They were both washed out, and very severely struck by the propeller.
This accident grew into a legal case, Robert Bell vs. MasterCraft Company. Much of the case focused on the design of the boat. However, the accident originated with the two women being washed from the bow, and ended with them both being struck by the propeller.
The jury rendered a $31.4 million verdict on June 7th, 2011.
The towboat industry immediately went into a fury developing warnings for their boats and operators manuals regarding open bows and bow swamping. These new warnings typically limited the open bow capacity to “X” pounds and/or required an adult in the bow if children were present, and/or limited bow capacity to “Y” individuals.
Malibu Boats says a tragic incident involving A Malibu Response LX boat triggered this bow seating Safety Alert. They further identify the boat as a 2000 Malibu Response LX boat.
I do not recall previously seeing a Safety Alert / Service Bulletin / or Product Recall being attributed to one specific accident.
While not stated in the Safety Alert, the incident cited is obviously the 17 July 2014 Georgia accident in which 7 year old Ryan Batchelder was killed. The accident resulted in a legal case, Batchelder vs. Malibu Boats. On 28 May 2021 the judge issued a $200 million verdict against Malibu. On 30 June 2023, Malibu reached a settlement to pay $100 million.
Eighteen days later, Malibu released this Safety Alert.
Malibu Boats West, Inc.
In the Batchelder case, Malibu Boats LLC expended great effort to prove they had nothing to do with boats designed and manufactured by Malibu West. However, the jury did not agree.
It seems a bit unusual that Malibu Boats LLC is still trying to make that claim in this Safety Alert (see image clips from the Safety Alert below). What entity built the boat seems of little interest to those receiving the Safety Alert.
Authority to Issue the Safety Alert
Malibu Boats LLC is saying they did not design or manufacture these boats and have nothing to do with them other than purchasing some assets from Malibu West in 2006. If so, it seems odd Malibu Boats LLC is able to issue Safety Alerts pertaining to these vessels and tell current owners no one can be in the open bow while underway.
It is almost as if they could issue a Safety Alert for certain Brunswick boats and place some limitations upon their use.
Increasing Awareness of the Safety Alert
Malibu Boats has long had a major internet presence. They have a website, multiple social media outlets as well as independent forums such as The Malibu Crew. I found no mention by Malibu of this Safety Alert on their various social media platforms. Malibu boater owners on The Malibu Crew were left to speculate about what the the Safety Alert said, and which vessels it applied to. A great opportunity to contact existing owners through these numerous outlets was missed.
The URL provided on the Safety Alert itself (malibuboats.com/safeboating) leads to a web page requesting your information and your knowledge of the most current owner of the boat. It also contains a link to the actual Safety Alert as seen the image below.
While the above page is on Malibu’s website. There is no way to see it or find it unless you know it exists.
Malibu Boat’s Commitment to Safety
Malibu closes their Safety Alert confirming their commitment to safety.
Malibu Boat’s commitment to safety (above) seems a bit challenging to resolve in this specific instance to resolve with:
- Malibu taking 9 years to publish this Safety Alert (accident in 2014, Safety Alert published in 2023).
- At the conclusion of the Batchelder trial, Malibu requested a new trial. The judge issued an order rejecting Malibu’s request on July 18, 2022. The following statement, written by the judge, comes from that order.
- There were numerous other bow swamping events involving the vessels listed over this time period. One of the most notable being the Kreush accident which claimed the life of a four year old boy. The specific vessel in that instance was a 2004 Malibu Response LXi open bow ski boat. See news clip below.
“Compelling evidence established that Malibu made repeated conscious decisions to not warn of a known safety defect, it mocked customers who attempted to raise concerns about bow swamping, it decided to warn about the risks of bow swamping on new boats, including the Response LX, while refusing to warn on identical boats it had already sold, despite knowing that the swamping risk posed the life-threatening hazard of “washing a small child from the bow.””
Per the Ohio Department of Natural Resources boat accident report, the boy in the Kreusch accident was wearing a life jacket and entrapped in the boat propeller, as was Ryan Batchelder 7 years later.
Post Sale Monitoring Product Safety
We provide free, extensive post sale safety monitoring training materials. They can help boat builders and marine drive manufacturers desiring to monitor the safety of their products in the field.
One wonders if the Batchelder lawsuit and this action by Malibu will cause another ripple through the industry like the MasterCraft accident. We may see a new interest in bow riding warnings and warning labels on these older vessels and newer vessels as well.