ABYC’s annual standards forum begins Monday

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A 34-foot Silverton carrying 27 people capsized on Long Island Sound in a high-profile accident on the Fourth of July last year, killing three children and prompting legislators to propose load-capacity limits on powerboats.

Improper anchoring and operator inexperience were determined to be the causes of an accident that killed two National Football League players and their friends in the Gulf of Mexico in 2009, prompting one legislator to propose a bill that would require boat bottoms to be painted bright orange with the word “Help” gelcoated in.

These are just two examples of high-profile boating accidents that the American Boat and Yacht Council focuses on during its annual Standards Week, which kicks off Monday in Tampa, Fla., John Adey, ABYC president, told Soundings Trade Only.

Click here for a report on the capsize that killed two NFL players in Trade Only's sister publication Soundings.

Click here for a Soundings report on the Silverton capsize.

The forum includes 150 engineers and other industry experts who meet in six committees to discuss safety standards and regulation possibilities for the boating industry — whether preventive or prompted by tragedy, environmental regulations or changing technology and trends, Adey said.

“I can tell you now, occupant position is a big deal — where people sit on small boats,” Adey said. “That Silverton accident on Long Island Sound is going to dictate some stability issues, I believe, and there may be a standard on small-boat stability and big-boat stability.”

Adey emphasized that the case is still under investigation, but he said preliminary looks suggest that occupancy was less of a problem than load distribution.

“In that particular case one thing we’re talking about is whether there should be a capacity on a flybridge,” Adey said.

The group is watching a complicated European capacity standard and is “cautiously researching the issue,” Adey said.

Another potential change in building regulation comes from how having several outboards on boats is sparking new testing about engine loads.

“ABYC has a standard on engine loads,” Adey told Trade Only. “Back when that was written, two outboards was pretty standard. Now you’re looking at four and even five outboards on the back of a boat. The committee and builders were concerned about what the steering loads would look like with four outboards instead of two.”

Warning labels also will be discussed. ABYC would like the see the powerboat industry follow the PWC segment with universally standardized warning labels letting boaters know “all the bad stuff that can happen,” Adey said.

The forum also will examine the possibility of regulating to prevent human error, Adey said.

“Driver distraction is a huge thing,” Adey said. “There can be five screens in front of you with cool stuff like chart plotters and iPads. How much can a boater do when they’re under way? That’s something that’s not regulated in the industry right now, and that may be a good place for a standard.”

Read more about ABYC in the February issue of Soundings Trade Only.

— Reagan Haynes

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