When shopping for a new boat, you see those decals from the NMMA (National Marine Manufacturers Association) or ABYC (American Boat and Yachting Council) on the windshield and trust that the boat is seaworthy. And for the most part it is. But there are some construction standards that are not covered or are overlooked by these organizations. Plus, there are only a few federal standards a builder must adhere to - the majority are suggestions.
How do you know what to look for when buying your new boat? For the answers, we turned to the United States Coast Guard, poring over their accident reports and "Boating Safety Circulars" in an effort to single out the aspects of boat design and construction buyers most often miss. Read on and we guarantee you'll never shop for a new boat in the same way again.
HELM WITHOUT A VIEW Case #MC00-175
"A 32' cruiser proceeding seaward at approximately 28 knots turned to port to enter a channel. It was struck by an overtaking runabout on the port side. Operator of cruiser claims he looked before turning but never saw the other boat."
According to the Coast Guard, the typical recreational boater is more likely to have a collision with another vessel or a fixed object than any other type of boating accident. In 1998 collisions accounted for more than 2,100 injuries and over $8.2 million in property damage. Worse yet, such collisions historically rank as the third most frequent cause of boating fatalities. A close look at the accident reports reveals that greater than 50 percent cite "improper lookout" as the major contributing factor. In other words, drivers either didn't, or often couldn't, see where they were going.
But this isn't all that surprising. Passengers may sit in front of the driver; there's typically no rear- or side-view mirrors; and there's often plenty of structural items to impair visibility. Imagine getting in your car, removing the mirrors, placing a few passengers on the hood, bringing the top of the windshield down to eye level, and then attempting to get from Point A to Point B without hitting anything. That's about what you'll find at the helm of many boats. Plus, factor in rain or spray without the benefit of windshield wipers, or with the sun bouncing off the reflective glare of the dash, and you're destined for trouble.
It's up to you to look for these blinders when shopping. In bowriders and deckboats, ask people in the showroom to sit in the forward cockpit to determine whether you'll be able to see ahead. Remember that most boats operate at about three degrees of bowrise, or inclination. Skiboats offer excellent wide-angle mirrors so drivers can keep an eye on those at the end of the tow rope. See if there's room to fit one either on the windshield frame or on the dash. Sit in the driver's seat and look straight out with your head up and good posture. The windshield frame or center opening vent shouldn't cut off your view. Turn around in the seat as if looking aft and to the sides. You'll be doing this quickly while underway, so anything - no matter how small or narrow - can block your view. Put on a pair of polarized sunglasses: Windshields may show a blotchy pattern that is hard to see through.
Look for a helm seat with a flip-up bolster. This allows you to stand securely, allowing for better all-around visibility. Opt for windshield wipers. Select models where the motor is mounted below your normal field of vision. Check that the blade fully retracts from your view when not in use. As for the glare off the windshield itself? A helm with a shiny, light-colored gel coat can make distracting reflections. Look instead for dark (black is best), dull, textured finishes. Or see if it's possible to cover the reflective area with a snap-on section of dark canvas.