The Midnight Killer - 08/06/2008
Hardly a week goes by in the summertime that we don’t read about a fisherman, kayaker, or spooning couple being mowed down at night by a high-speed powerboat. Often the perp has been drinking. USCG tells us that 133 people died at night in 2007 in boating accidents. And 68% of those deaths occurred on lakes, reservoirs or rivers. The USCG statistics are not much help when it comes to boat type but we know from just reading the papers that performance boats are involved in a lot of these midnight collisions or rundowns. 

Midnight killer 400
This boat was struck at night by a high performance boat and six people were killed in Ft. Lauderdale in the late 1990s.

If you plan to go boating at night, do just that – plan it. Be aware of where the watering holes are and where people might be taking their boat after leaving the pub. Stay away from those thoroughfares. Traveling close to shore is probably safer than going across the lake, but you can just as easily run over an obstruction, so, as we said, plan your route.

Be Vigilent at Night
Keep a sharp lookout. While you can often hear high-performance boats coming, you might be surprised by a bass boat or some other outboard-powered boat. We see their running lights all of the time at night streaking across Stamford Harbor (in the No Wake Zone) and marvel at how quiet they can be.

The USCG attributed 122, or 18% of all 2007 boating deaths to operator inattention, inexperience, recklessness, or carelessness. That means you must assume extra vigilance because others may have none at all. When you see or hear a boat on the water, determine its course and steer behind it, keeping in mind that the other operator might change his direction at any time. If you are traveling with friends, assign one of them to watch each “bogie.”

Travel at a safe, relatively slow speed. Depending on conditions that may mean only six or seven mph. At night speed kills. You need to be able to hear what is going on around you and have time to react. So enjoy the evening and go slow.

When you see an approaching boat, do not assume they see you or your running lights. Get out of their way and do not hesitate to signal your position with a spotlight. That may get their attention. If you only have a flash light, use it early and often. Don’t hesitate to get on the VHF radio with Sécurité, Sécurité, Sécurité and register your position, however chances are the person you need to be concerned about is not monitoring channel 16.

Immediately Report Bad Actors
Beyond these simple common sense precautions, know your boating area and as far as possible the people who use it. If there are bad actors, do not hesitate to report them to the marine police when they endanger the lives of others. At night, if there are marine police in your area, do not hesitate to report on channel 16 that there is a boat going too fast for the conditions and ask the marine police to intervene. Then be careful if the police come flying across the lake.

Just because there may not be laws governing night-time operation, that does not give boaters the right to be reckless – and going fast at night is usually reckless, as the pictures below show.

Your comments are welcome, and a box is provided at the end of the photographs.

Islands are often invisible at night and every year boats run into them. The express cruiser shown here came to a sudden stop at 11:46 pm July 3, 2007 on Lake Michigan.

Boats ran up on breakwaters at night last year so many times we stopped reporting on it.

Another breakwater attacked at night by a boater who thought he knew what he was doing.

Night time boat accidents are providing good material for local TV stations who are tired of covering car wrecks.

Accidents at night are not a new problem, there are just more boats on the water now and operators who have less experience.

We used this picture a couple of weeks ago in “What’s Happening Here?” and received some funny captions. Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens more than one might suppose and is no laughing matter.
Another picture we have used before. We think it is classic.  It happened at night, of course, like all of these.

This accident occurred in Australia at high speed in an area marked for 5 mph only. Two people died.
It’s 12:30 am and do you know where your mother is? In this case, one died and another person was seriously injured in Australia when they hit a bridge abutment at high speed.

A car dealer who also owned a 38’ Cigarette and who reportedly had a blood alcohol level of .20 is responsible for this.