Originally created 10/11/05

Tragedy in New York may alter boat rules

A push to re-examine Coast Guard criteria for licensing commercial tour boats could focus scrutiny on the Augusta Canal Authority's Petersburg boats.

"At this point, the Coast Guard hasn't promulgated any rule changes, so we don't have any re-testing required," said Rebecca Rogers, the Canal Authority's marketing director. "But if it were required, we believe we would be in good shape with no changes needed."

The National Transportation Safety Board last week resurrected a recommendation made in December to the Coast Guard, asking that the average weight calculation for passengers on commercial tour boats be raised from the current 140 pounds to 174 pounds.

The discussions re-emerged after a tour boat capsized in New York's Adirondack Mountains, killing 20 elderly people. That boat, the Ethan Allen, was licensed in the 1960s under the 140-pound standard. Investigators later suggested the boat was overloaded.

If stricter weight recommendations are adopted, boats all over the country - including the Canal Authority's Henry Cumming and William Phillips - would be re-evaluated.

Mrs. Rogers said both Augusta-based vessels are licensed to carry 49 passengers, a captain and one crew member and passed earlier Coast Guard tests with flying colors.

"When they did the initial inspections, the boats were heavily loaded with weighted barrels filled with water," she said. "They even shifted them from side to side - and forward and backward - to see if the boat would tip. There was very little instability with the vessels."

The Canal Authority employs four licensed captains to operate the vessels, which convey visitors along the narrow canal. Mrs. Rogers said changes in the weight requirement would make little difference in local tours.

"If they change their requirements, of course we'd abide by them," she said.

Investigators looking into the New York accident have said too much weight might have been a factor and suggested the per-person weight standards may have to be revised because Americans are heavier - something the Coast Guard recognized well before the tragedy.

Other regulators are changing standards to adapt to heavier Americans.

After a commuter plane crash that killed 21 people in 2003 in North Carolina, the Federal Aviation Administration raised its summertime weight average from 160 pounds a person to 174, including carry-on baggage.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

Weight's role examined

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the weight of the passengers on the Ethan Allen might have been a factor when the boat overturned Oct. 2, killing 20 elderly tourists. The accident gave new urgency to recommendations that the average weight calculation for passengers on commercial tour boats be raised to 174 pounds from the current 140 pounds.

- Associated Press


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