I posted a few months ago [here] about the recent studies re: driving and cell phone distractions. When people die, the National Transportation Safety Board likes to do some poking around, and they found an interesting similarity concerning two recent collisions between USCG assets and private boats. Seems the Coasties are on the phone or texting while they are cruising through congested boating areas. As if they didn’t have enough to do, loading those scary guns and donning bullet proof vests while rushing to a grounded boat…. don’t get me started.
The NTSB has recommended that the USCG
Develop and implement national and local policies that address the use of cellular telephones and other wireless devices aboard U.S. Coast Guard vessels.
I don’t know about in your area, but around here, the USCG has developed the bad habit of taking much of their communications over to cell phone; even full emergency cases. I think for the most part it is because cell phones don’t get stepped on by other radios like a VHF does. (Ironic side note: in New England, most of the stepping on is done by multiple CG radios all trying to communicate with the same distressed boater at the same time….) I doubt that the Small Boat Coxswains or crew are actually talking to distressed boaters on cell phones (heaven forbid); the USCG base station is handling that. But, the base stations are talking to their rescue crews on Nextel phones and perhaps texting messages too. I think that today’s young Coastie is probably a typical 20 something, and more comfortable using a cell phone to communicate rather than a radio. The trend is definitely toward more cell phone use, not less.
The memo also points out:
The NTSB has learned, however, that some crewmembers on each Coast Guard accident vessel had been using cellular telephones to engage in text-messaging activities or conversations that were unrelated to vessel operations or to the mission at hand.
Reading between the lines of that sentence: the boys were just chattin’ it up with their homies on the beach while the coxswain had the Hondas hooked up! @Dude cn u hr me nw? If a USCG vessel is rolling to an emergency, first thing the commander should do is tell everyone to put the phone down and shut the eff up! Do we really need to write that down in some silly policy paper? Who is in charge of these sailors?
NTSB has taken the Coast Guard to the wood shed gave the USCG 90 days to develop some new policy. Of course, instead of finding a person within the chain of command at fault, the knee jerk reaction is more policy. In the coming years cell phone distraction will inevitably be implicated as contributing to more accidents, probably leading to even more regulations. Can our boats be far behind? Our industry relies heavily on cell phones, and perhaps we should develop some industry guidelines for phoning/texting while at the wheel? A proactive approach to legislation/regulation has done well for us in the past.
One item I was surprised to see somehow missed the scrutiny of the NTSB: both accidents involved Christmas lights or Christmas light parades. Thousands of red and green lights all around the horizon…. in the dark…. and no one even mentions this as a contributing factor?? Hello??? Guess we have to wait for the final report.
Read the full text of the NTSB memo below.