Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Worrisome Trend

Vergennes, VT
44 10.17 N 073 15.48 W

We ran aground again this morning.  This is the fourth time this year.  All four were cases that could have and should have been avoided -- in other words, operator error.   Two of the groundings were clearly my fault, two were Libby's.

I worry that we are so used to the boat that we lack the fear that makes us cautious.  Lack of caution; complacency -- it's all the same thing.   

This morning's incident is particularly worrisome.  A few weeks ago, coming up Otter creek, the depth alarm started buzzing.  Tarwathie draws 5 feet, and the alarm was set for 7 feet.  The response to the buzzing should be to immediately slow down to dead slow speed.  Libby was at the helm and I was below.  I heard no change in engine speed, so I yelled NEUTRAL.  I waited, still no response, so I yelled louder SLOW DOWN.  To be heard over the engine nose we need to yell.  It does not signal anger.  More to the point, we both know well that the response to the alarm buzzing is to slow down immediately,  there should have been no need to say anything at all.  By the way, the minimum depth of that shallow spot turned out to be 6.8 feet, 1.8 feet to spare.

Today, as we approached the same spot, again I was below and Libby was at the helm.  She anticipated the shallow spot. But she didn't slow down.  Instead she moved from the middle of the channel to the left side, hoping to avoid any buzzing of the alarm.  CRASH -- we hit rocks and stopped abruptly heeling over 45 degrees.   It took us 30 minutes to refloat ourselves.  No significant damage to anything.  However, in retrospect I'm horrified that LIbby would choose to endanger the boat rather than risk buzzing again and hearing me shout.  She skipped the 6.8 foot deep place in favor of one side with unknown depth.

I don't want to put the blame on Libby.  I was in control for half the groundings and I'm in charge of training and operational procedures.   The problem is I'm at a bit of a loss for what to do about it.  I don't want to become Captain Queeg.  That would backfire, as this morning's incident illustrates.  Still, I need to do something that reinvigorates caution, alertness, and combats complacency.   I'm open to suggestions.


  1. With your private pilot ticket you did not get any cockpit resource management training. If you know a key problem area (like a shallow spot is coming up) try both being on deck. Two flying is better than one sometimes. Any doubt and go into holding and sort it out before proceeding.
    Have either of you had a good physical in the past year? Sometimes a good practitioner might spot a cognitive problem. Might be a vascular problem with a carotid artery blockage or something like that. Ken

  2. The best way to learn emergency procedures and problem solving is drills and simulations.
    Maybe you could take turns simulating the instruments and conditions for each other and practice shallow water maneuvers out in open water.


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