Boat or Boat Motor Struck Submerged Dredge Pipe: Exemplar Boat Accidents
The Storm Lake Iowa Laass v. Brunswick case has focused attention on boats and marine drives striking submerged or floating dredge pipes / dredge lines. In the Storm Lake accident, a ten year old boy, David Paul McFarlin was killed on May 31, 2010. A 175 HP Mercury outboard struck a submerged dredge pipe, flipped back up into the boat, and the boy was killed by its propeller.
We started looking for a list of similar “struck dredge pipe” accidents and were a bit surprised not to find any such list. We thought it might especially exist over in the dredge safety literature, but found no such list there either. We found some dredge safety studies, but they focused on the safety of dredging employees, not boating safety.
In the absence of a list, we started making one ourselves. Earlier, when we started making a list of outboard motors that had flipped into boats, we jotted down several U.S. Coast Guard Boating Accident Report Database (BARD) accident numbers for dredge pipe strike accidents. We went back and fleshed out those accidents into a spreadsheet format including the basic statistics surrounding those accidents.
We also checked some media (news) reports, boat forums, and other online sources for additional boat or outboard motor or stern drive struck a floating or submerged dredge pipe accidents. We found almost countless reports online, but few of them are well documented, so we left them off our list. It looks like these accidents happen much more frequently than they are reported to BARD.
The spreadsheet below summarizes our findings. You can download a pdf of the spreadsheet that includes additional columns of data by clicking on it. It is best viewed on a 24 inch or larger monitor.
Note- we updated this chart on October 6, 2012 with the 2011 BARD reported accidents. We also added the 1997 BARD reported accidents. The image below does not include the updates, but if you download it, you will see them.
We have encountered several more dredge line strikes since our last update and are listing them below:
- 6 June 1997 Doreen Fender was lying in the sun on a friend’s pontoon boat when it struck a floating dredge pipe in Kings Bay (FL). It was part of a county sponsored dredging project. Energy Resources, Inc. of St. Louis was the contractor. When the pontoon boat struck the pipe, Fender fell overboard and was struck by the propeller. Her left leg was cut from her ankle to her thigh. It required 129 staples. They were traveling about 15 mph. She and her friends were familiar with the pipe, but it had been moved that morning and the buoys looked like the other buoys around the bay. The Coast Guard fined the company $58 for failing to mark the pipe’s path. Another person lost two teeth in the collision and yet one more was tossed overboard.
- 8 May 2001 John Reiser was operating a 1969 Chris Craft at Buckeye Lake State Park (Ohio), hit a dredge pipe in Millersport Basin, the prop and prop shaft were pulled from his boat and lodged in the dredge pipe. He rowed to a dock where his boat sank.
- 12 May 2007 three boats hit a dredge pipe in the Chester River (Maryland) near Kent Narrows within about three hours. One boat sank. The boats were a new 23 footer from Delaware about 2pm part of its lower unit was ripped off, a 25 footer from the Grasonville Volunteer Fire Department, and a 17 foot Bayliner.
- May 2010 Frederick Tolley was on Parker’s River (Massachusetts) with a friend when he struck a 300 foot length of dredge pipe left over from a West Yarmouth dredging project. The outboard was ripped off the boat and Tolley was thrown into the steering wheel. A complaint was filed in US District Court of Massachusetts in May of 2011.
- 12 September 2010 a 30 foot Mako in Galveston Bay near Texas City Dyke struck an unmarked dredge pipe in the dark, four people were ejected and injured (J.D. Huddleston, G.A. Anderson, C.A. Boyd, G.A. Gardner) and the boat was a total loss. Became a case against Weeks Marine in Galveston County 212th District Court. Case No. 11-cv-0207.
- 29 September 2011 WesternBass.com forum (California) reports Mike Moreno and his son Jared hit a dredge pipe from a barge near Sherman on the San Janquin River. The 250 HP Mercury outboard flipped up into the passenger seat still running. The passenger was life flighted and the operator was taken by ambulance to area hospitals.
- October 2011 numerous vessels struck a dredge pipe in Montauk Harbor Inlet, New York. The Coast Guard reported the pipe was endangering their own boats as well. Captain Rick Etzel said his boat propeller was damaged from striking the pipe (his boat may have been a commercial vessel).
- 16 December 2012 Australia, two men and a three-year old baby were returning to Darwin Harbor, hit a dredge pipe, a 34 year old male and the baby were ejected. The left leg of the man ejected was severely struck by the propeller.
- 20 March 2013 Jeremy Tate struck a dredge pipe on Apopka Lake (Florida). He was alone, running his bass boat about 60mph when he stuck a 10 inch dredge pipe. The jackplate broke, the outboard flipped into the boat, and he received four non life threatening lacerations to his head from the propeller. The steering wheel was also struck. The boat was a red Phoenix.
- 23 April 2013 David C. McAuliffe, was operating the Cape Hatteras, a 49 foot Sea Tow franchise boat, in Great Egg Harbor Inlet in New Jersey. An emergency beacon (EPIRB) on the boat sent out a distress signal and the Coast Guard was onsite about seven minutes later and could only see debris in the water. The sunken boat was found a few days later and his body a few days after that. It is speculated the boat may have struck a nearby dredge pipe.
- 15 June 2013 George Chrisofely was on the Bay off Ocean City, New Jersey with his girlfriend and her parents in a 26 foot Sea Ray. The stern drive struck an unmarked dredge pipe floating just beneath the surface at idle speed. The boat instantly stopped, as if they had hit a concrete wall. The stern drive was separating, but intact with the boat. He was able to return to shore but had to be rescued when he tried to make it on to the Tennessee Avenue boat ramp. His girlfriend’s father was slightly injured. Damages to the boat are $15,000 and climbing.
Dredge pipes have been struck floating, submerged, and even when raised and supported above the water. Boaters often claim the dredge pipes were not properly marked, or had drifted away from their marked position. Sometimes, portions of dredge pipes drift off on their own.
We encourage all involved to try to minimize the frequency of these boat striking a dredge pipe or dredge line accidents. We also encourage further research and work in this area such as: creating an online location for boaters to log these accidents, understanding which marking and signage methods work best, effective night lighting / marking techniques, local awareness educational methods including use of a local dredging project web page and social media, making sure marine drives to not fly back into boats causing tragedies such as the Storm Lake accident, improving dredging methods, schedules, and approaches to minimize the time dredge pipes are utilized in popular boating areas. The popularity of dredging community lakes to revive their recreational potential will continue to make dredge pipes and dredge lines a boating safety concern.
In addition to striking dredge pipes, we also found examples of boats striking cables associated with dredges and striking the dredges themselves. Plus we found moving dredges striking boats.
Probably the most famous dredge accident is the August 1989 Machioness Disaster in the UK. A dredge struck a large pleasure boat (the Machioness) with 131 on board. The Machioness sank claiming over 50 lives in the River Thames.
Some spell dredge pipes and lines as drege pipe and drege line.