The Space Shuttle Goes to Sea or How Chris Craft Nearly Ended
by David Pascoe, Marine Surveyor
wrong with this boat?
Do you see anything wrong with the design of the boat
pictured below? In reality, it is a personal injury lawyer's dream. Can you
see why? If not, don't feel bad because the design faults of this boat are the
sort of thing that only experienced boaters are usually able to discern.
Unfortunately, boating novices usually aren't aware of the dangers that a boat
designed like an automobile or a space ship can present to themselves and
their passengers. This is a perfect example of what I call an entry
level boat because the designers prey on the potential buyer's ignorance,
whereas more experienced owners begin to understand why boats should have
flat, not round decks.
|Are you ready for 1959
Cacillac fins? Count the number of places you are likely to slip and
fall while attempting to get around on this boat.
It is what I call a bubble boat, the name borrowed from the reference of
today's automobile styling frequently referred to as bubble cars. It is indeed
unfortunate that some in the marine industry saw fit to borrow this styling
from the automotive industry for one very important reason. We don't try to
stand up on the outside of bubble cars, but on boats you do have to stand up
on the decks. And if those decks are round and slippery . . . well, the
potential end result should be pretty obvious, should it not?
Are you beginning to see what's wrong with this design? Can you imagine
what would happen, say, if you're trying to dock in a tight slip and suddenly
the boat is not going where you want it to and you tell your wife or daughter
to run up on the bow deck and try to fend off? To try to negotiate the 4"
wide, curved side decks is next to impossible. True, the builder did give you
a nice hand rail . . . . located down around your knees (the one below the
windshield wings). But even if one did manage to get so far as the bow
railing, you are then faced with the prospect of negotiating the rounded
foredeck. One wrong step and it's . . . . oops . . . possibly one very nasty
fall. Hopefully, the victim won't get tangled up with the propeller as
the boat runs over him.
Of course a safer way would be to go through the cabin and up through the
bow hatch. But given that it's an emergency where time is of the essence, by
the time someone got up there, your bow pulpit is probably stuck through the
side of another boat. And even when they do get up there, the poor soul is
still faced with the prospect of having no place to stand except on the
rounded deck. What is your crew going to have to stand on while having to fend
off coming in contact with another vessel? Well, there's nothing there but an
18" triangle of horizontal space. Try standing on a 18" triangle anywhere, yet
alone on a moving boat.
|Here's a good
perspective of the deck that nearly ended my career. When your
foot slips, your leg is going to go under the railing while your upper
body may catapult it self over the railing. The railing is only
20" high and is utterly useless. Notice that with a catwalk only 6"
wide, you have no choice but to step up onto the heavily rounded
True, maybe emergencies won't happen very often, but what about normal
docking requirements? Obviously, it is completely unsafe to send someone up to
the bow to handle the docklines, as boaters are wont to do. Apparently the
crew is just supposed to stand in the cockpit and hope for the best. But what
about anchoring? How would you like to go up there when the water is not
Racy styling versus safety and
This is just one of the important considerations first-time boat buyers
need to be aware of. it's the question of racy styling versus safety and
practicality. The principle of law is that a boat is not seaworthy if the
vessel is not safe, and whether the design of this one is safe is surely open
to debate. As one who is frequently involved with litigation, I have no
trouble coming to my own conclusions about that: it's just plain dangerous.
Why would a marine surveyor care if you or one of your family members fall
and break your leg or neck? For one thing, when the lawsuits start flying, if
the surveyor has had any involvement with the vessel (like doing a survey on
it), he is very likely to be named in the suit. The lawyer is likely to say,
"Mr. Surveyor had an obligation to warn his client of the inherent danger of
these curved, slippery decks." I do not like to see this sort of thing for the
completely selfish reason that it puts me at risk as well as the passengers.
But that is not the ONLY reason. Another reason is depicted in the other
two photos. One is a 30' Chris Craft with a similar bubble deck which caused
me to fall in such a way that it could have cost me my life. Tyring to get to
the bow, I slipped on the curved deck, but what happened next still gives me
goose bumps. As I slipped, one of my legs went under the railing while I fell
over backwards, off the boat. My leg was levered between the railing and the
rub rail and why this didn't break my leg, I'll never know, because it should
have. To make matters worse, the boat was on land with a nice twelve foot drop
to the ground. But my leg being wedged between rail and gunwale prevented me
from falling to the ground. Miraculously not seriously injured, I was able to
pull myself back up.
|Here's yet another view of a bubble deck.
Photographing a white deck in bright sun doesn't work out too well, so I
have drawn in the contour lines to show the curvature of the deck of
this this boat. With catwalks only 3-4" wide, it forces you step up on
the steeply sloping deck with nothing to hold on to.
While I'm not the sort of person who looks to the courts to right any
wrongs against me, had I been seriously injured I wouldn't have hesitated to
seek out the most viscous bulldog personal injury lawyer I could find, and
several of the all-time greats live right here in my home town.
While I have always been a critic of poor design, mainly because bad design
is dangerous, this incident really brought the issue crashing home to me.
Remember that I spend my life on boats, was nearly born on one, and am
extremely safety conscious; I have to be to avoid being frequently injured.
Well aware of the danger of the deck of this boat at the time, and doing my
best to NOT slip and fall (realizing that this was possible) it happened
anyway because there was no place to stand except on the curved deck.
A Boat is not a spacecraft
So whether you're and old salt or a novice, look a little closer before you
become smitten with that rocketship styling. A boat is not a spacecraft or an
automobile, but a platform that should carry you safely on the water, water
that more often than not is rough rather than calm. The designers are selling
you gorgeous interior space, but a boat is not a floating cocktail lounge.
Think through the functions that not only yourself, but your family members or
friends will have to perform like fending off, docking and anchoring. Or what
if your child just wanted to go up there for the ride, sat down on the bubble
and slipped quietly overboard, unnoticed?
The bulldog lawyers can't restore a loss of life or crippled limbs. And
unless we want the government designing our boats for us - like they do with
our cars and homes - it is we, the public that needs to force the industry
into sensible choices. The best way to prevent this kind of foolishness is to
be aware of the danger and simply not buy these dangerous products. Designers
design them that way because they know that's what you want. They know it's
not good for you, but they do it because that's what sells. And if you don't
buy into it, believe me, those folks will change their ways faster than they'd
change their shoes after stepping in . . . .
First posted on xxx,
1997 at David Pascoe's site:
Page design changed for this
Last reviewed 11/28/98