In an effort to promote safety on our nation’s waterways, the Coast Guard recently issued a bulletin emphasizing one of the most important rules of navigation — the Lookout Rule.
The Lookout Rule (or Navigation Rule 5) requires that all vessels at all times maintain a proper lookout by sight and hearing so that the operator can fully appraise the situation and the risk of collision. While the need for the rule may be obvious, its technical requirements are less clear.
A strict interpretation of the rule says that the assigned lookout shall have no other duties or assignments that could interfere with his or her task as lookout. Arguably, this could preclude a wheelman from being his own lookout. However, courts have clarified that, depending on the overall circumstances, a vessel pilot can serve as lookout while operating his vessel without running afoul of the rule. In practice, masters of inland river towing vessels routinely serve as their own lookouts absent circumstances that would warrant placing someone on the head of the tow or some other position with a better vantage point. The dual function of master-lookout is tacitly acknowledged in statutory comments that recognize that vessels providing an “unobstructed all-round view” from the steering position may not necessarily need a separate lookout.
However, a dedicated lookout may be needed in situations when there are severe weather conditions, such as heavy fog, narrow channel conditions that present “blind curves” or other impediments to sight, and waterways that attract a large amount of recreational craft and small hard-to-see vessel traffic. However, posting a separate lookout might not always be enough. In fact, the “rules of the road” further require the use of radar to enhance visibility while navigating.
When an accident results as a result of a violation of the Lookout Rule, the ramifications can be significant. Because the rule is a statute intended to prevent collisions, a violation can result in a presumption of fault. Under the Pennsylvania Rule, a party who violates the safety statute is presumed to be negligent unless they can prove that the accident would have occurred notwithstanding this violation.
The licensed captain who was at the helm of a 60-foot luxury yacht when it collided with a 23-foot powerboat in waters off the coast of Westerly, R.I., on September 22, 2015, that resulted in the death of the operator of the powerboat pleaded guilty in federal court in Providence today to a charge seaman’s manslaughter.
Cooper “Chick” Bacon, 79, of Cape May, N.J., was piloting the unregistered yacht, the Princess 60, from an indoor salon when it struck the powerboat. The collision resulted in the death of Walter S. Krupinski, 81, of Norwalk, Conn., the only person onboard the powerboat, the Peggy K.
Bacon had been hired to pilot the Princess 60 from Newport, R.I., to a boat show in Stamford, Conn.
According to information presented to the Court, GPS data collected from the GPS system aboard the Princess 60 indicated the yacht approached the powerboat at an average speed of 25.2 knots. The Princess 60 was equipped with an operating horn, VHF marine radiotelephone, navigation system, and radar system, among other safety equipment.
Prior to the collision, the defendant failed to take precautions required by the ordinary practice of a seaman. Bacon did not post his First Mate to lookout, did not make proper use of radar, and did not himself see the powerboat in time to avoid the collision. As a result of his failure to see the Peggy K, Bacon did not make passing arrangements, sound the horn, change course, slacken speed, or stop or reverse propulsion to avoid a collision.
After the collision, Bacon failed to make proper use of the VHF marine radiotelephone by notifying the United States Coast Guard of the emergency.
Mr. Krupinski died as a result of multiple blunt force injuries sustained when the 67,241-pound yacht ran up and over the open cockpit of the powerboat.
Bacon’s guilty plea before U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., to seaman’s manslaughter is announced by United States Attorney Stephen G. Dambruch; Admiral Steven Poulin, Commander of the First Coast Guard District, United States Coast Guard; and Richard Cox, Special Agent in Charge of United States Coast Guard Investigative Service, New England Region.
Bacon is scheduled to be sentenced on January 17, 2019.