The National Transportation Safety Board today issued two recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard regarding the use of cell phones and similar wireless devices aboard vessels.
Currently, the NTSB is investigating two marine accidents where crewmembers on Coast Guard patrol boats involved in collisions had been using cellular telephones while underway to engage in text-messaging activities or conversations that were unrelated to vessel operations or the mission at hand. The Coast Guard recently issued its preliminary national policy concerning cell phone usage on their vessels while underway. Therefore, the Safety Board made the following recommendation to the Coast Guard:
Develop and implement national and local policies that address the use of cellular telephones and other wireless devices aboard U.S. Coast Guard vessels.
The risk associated with distractions from using wireless devices while operating a motor vehicle are well known, and the Safety Board believes that the boating public and commercial marine industry should be reminded that similar risks may exist on the water. Although not related to ongoing investigations, the Safety Board has made the following recommendation to the Coast Guard:
Issue a safety advisory to the maritime industry that (1) promotes awareness of the risk posed by the use of cellular telephones and other wireless devices while operating vessels and (2) encourage the voluntary development of operational policies to address the risk.
"The use of wireless communications devices while operating vehicles in any mode of transportation poses an unacceptable distraction," NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said. "State governments and federal regulators have been acting to combat these safety hazards and we urge the Coast Guard to do the same."
The NTSB has not yet determined the probable causes of the following ongoing investigations, but the Board has confirmed that cellular telephones and similar electronic devices were being used while Coast Guard crewmembers were engaged in vessel operations:
On December 5, 2009, in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, a Coast Guard shore-based response vessel collided with the small passenger vessel Thriller 09. Five of the 22 passengers aboard the Thriller were injured and treated at a local hospital. A sixth passenger self-reported to an emergency room for treatment.
Fifteen days later, on December 20, 2009, in the harbor of San Diego, California, a Coast Guard shore-based response vessel, carrying five crewmembers, collided with a 24-foot recreational vessel with 13 persons aboard. As a result of the accident, one child died and four passengers on the recreational vessel were seriously injured.
"Accidents caused by distractions from wireless devices must cease," Hersman said. "Lives are being unnecessarily put at risk and lost."