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Lawyer: Boat might not have been overloaded

The 34-foot Silverton convertible that capsized July 4 on Long Island Sound with 27 people aboard, leaving three children dead, was not necessarily overloaded, an attorney for the boat’s owner said.

The lawyer noted, in a New York Times story, that at least 10 of the passengers were children and that no calculation of the group’s total weight had been made. He suggested that the combined wakes of passing boats could have been big enough to capsize the 28-year-old Silverton.

“They were out there for hours before, during and after the fireworks, and there was no incident, no problem; the vessel handled fine,” attorney James Mercante told the New York Times. “You get two or three big boats when they’re together, you get a wake becoming 6 to 8 feet. Any boat could get rolled over with a trough like that.”

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Mercante also speculated whether something mechanical caused the accident — “if something gave way.” He is quoted in a Washington Post report.

Mercante also was critical of reports saying there was an insufficient number of life jackets on the boat, noting that the three children who died were in the cabin, where no PFDs were required by law.

Not surprisingly, much of the focus is on the “overloaded” theory, with a number of safety experts pointing to the number of passengers.

“In the simplest terms, the degree to which a vessel is seaworthy is a function of its ability to 1) stay afloat by keeping the ocean out of the hull and 2) stay upright with a positive range of stability, determined by its hull shape-driven center of buoyancy (CB) and its variable center of gravity (CG) creating a restoring righting arm (RA),” said Soundings technical writer Eric Sorensen, who is a consultant to boatbuilders, owners and the government.

“In my opinion, this Silverton 34 with 27 people on board had no chance of remaining upright when exposed to any significant combination of a weight shift, course change or passing wake,” says Sorensen, who was founding director of the J.D. Power and Associates marine practice and is the author of “Sorensen’s Guide to Powerboats: How to Evaluate Design, Construction and Performance.”

“It is a tender boat to start with, with its high cockpit deck, foredeck and bridge above CG, and lightweight engines below. Since even the cockpit deck is likely above the unloaded boat’s CG, each of those 27 people on board, except for the children in the cabin, below CG, made the boat incrementally less stable, diminishing RA.”

On Friday, a line was tied from police boats to the Silverton so it won’t drift before investigators can raise it. The boat is reported to be in water around 60 feet deep.

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