Reviewing Government Cut safety after fatal crash

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The 32-foot Cape Horn center console was found on the south side of Government Cut’s north jetty. Photo by NBC6 Miami.

The 32-foot Cape Horn center console was found on the south side of Government Cut’s north jetty. Photo by NBC6 Miami.

In the wake of the boating accident in which Christopher Colgan, 56, and Elisaine Colgan, 38, and Jeniffer Munoz Cadavid, 28, were killed last Saturday night, questions have resurfaced about the safety of navigation through Government Cut in Miami.

The accident took place in the same spot where Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and two friends died in a boat crash several years ago on a jetty in Government Cut. The Colgans’ 32 Cape Horn center console was found on the south side of the north jetty, according to an article on the Sun Sentinel website. Troy Forte, 37, of Juno Beach, Fla., survived the crash and was taken to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

The accident involving the Colgans took place at approximately 9:14 Saturday evening and high tide was at 10:38 p.m.

Many, including Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, have called for closer looks at the safety of Government Cut, especially at high tide, when less of the north jetty is visible. In June of 2017, the Miami Herald posted an article and video on its website. A reporter from the publication went out in Government Cut with an anonymous boater at high tide. The footage showed how much of the rocks on the jetties on the north and south sides of the cut were showing at high tide.

In an email to Trade Only Today, Crystalynn Kneen, assistant public affairs officer for Coast Guard District 7 in Miami, wrote: “There are two lit buoys, red buoy number 12 and green buoy number 11 that are near the mouth of the channel of Government Cut. After the April 20, 2019 incident, Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Fort Lauderdale inspected red buoy number 12 and green buoy number 11. Both buoys were verified to be working properly and on station. Boaters are advised to go between the buoys when both coming in and leaving the channel. The Government Cut North Jetty is outside the marked navigation channel (as most jetties are outside federally maintained channels) and is not lit. The jetty is charted on both paper and GPS charting systems.”

The buoys marking the entrance to Government Cut are east of the jetties that many people consider to be the beginning of Government Cut.

Following the Hernandez crash, the Coast Guard conducted a Waterways Analysis and Management Survey and the captain of the Port of Miami determined that existing navigation aids, including color-coded lighted buoys and range markers, were sufficient. That determination was also endorsed by the Coast Guard’s Seventh District commander.

In addition to determining that the waterway is sufficiently marked and lit, Kneen said in the email, “Furthermore, it was determined installing additional lights could interfere with these existing aids. The Coast Guard’s Seventh District commander concurred with these findings.”

Trade Only Today reached out to experienced Miami-area boaters for their feedback on running Government Cut at night.

“If you go from Haulover south, you have to go farther out from shore than you think you need to if you want to clear the shore,” said Bud Lorow, who has been a test driver with Cigarette Racing Team in Aventura, Fla., for years. “If you follow the channel markers for the cruise ships, it’s marked adequately.”

John Tomlinson, co-owner of TNT Custom Marine grew up in Miami and is a multi-time world champion in offshore powerboat racing. He told Trade Only Today that having local knowledge of the area is critical when entering Government Cut. “It’s hard to see those rocks at night if you don’t know the area,” he said. “They’re not marked at all.”

Tomlinson added that he’s been out of the cut many times at night and the jetties are “well marked on GPS.” Tomlinson and Lorow both acknowledged that the changes to the Miami skyline and all the lights that come with it can cause problems with a driver’s depth perception. That situation can only get worse if the captain is operating at night with a bunch of bright electronics screens running.

Following the crash, many news outlets reported that Chris Colgan was an experienced operator who had been in and out of the Cut many times, including at night.

Vic Spellberg was a long-time test driver and employee at Formula Boats and has been in and out of Government Cut many times over the years. “I feel that it’s adequately marked and anybody is a fool who would debate the fact that local knowledge is key,” he said. “I look at entering a cut like flying an airplane. I get myself lined up well in advance.”

“I always go out farther than I think I should, day or night, because I know the end of those rocks is barely covered,” added Lorow. 

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