THE FOUR-SECOND BLIND SPOT Case #SAR99-672
"An 18' runabout, running parallel to the shoreline on a northeasterly heading, struck a PWC headed west out of the swimming area. The boat operator claims that he was powering his boat onto plane and saw no other boat traffic in the immediate vicinity."
Not obvious in showrooms, but well documented in accident reports, is the loss of forward visibility when getting on plane. According to the Coast Guard, temporary "restricted vision" is a major contributing factor in accidents. Imagine driving a car and not being able to see where you're going for four seconds while accelerating to highway speed.
There are no manufacturer's guidelines or government regulations for excessive bowrise. ABYC guidelines state only that during times of high trim angles, "it is expected that a lookout will be maintained as required by the Rules of the Road." Essentially, you're on your own - which is another good reason to test drive a boat before buying. In general, bowrise over five degrees, or losing sight of the horizon while seated, is too high. Five degrees is also the lower limit of the beam from properly installed navigation lights. At higher angles the lights may not be visible.
A boat that's struggling to get on plane with its bow in the air is often a sign of insufficient power, so consider upgrading to a larger engine. Another detriment might be too much propeller pitch. Most sportboats should be leveled out and on plane within four seconds; six seconds is considered slow. Cruisers to 32' should take about eight seconds and never more than 10 seconds.
Red And Green, Hardly Seen Case #MC99-583
"On a bow-to-bow course with an oncoming vessel, Vessel A turned to starboard. Operator states he saw Vessel B's red light and thought he was clear. Collision occurred about 15 seconds later."
The Coast Guard publishes precise rules on the visibility of running lights, but it is left to builders to comply with these standards. Unfortunately, there are many cases where lights may appear to be mounted properly but are, in fact, compromised. According to the Coast Guard, in 1998 more than 21 percent of reported accidents occurred between 6:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., hours when boating activity is significantly reduced. Lack of lights or improper ones was a key contributing factor.
Red and green running lights are required to be installed parallel to the boat's centerline and then arranged to show an unbroken beam from directly ahead to 22.5 degrees abaft the beam: Visualize a clockface with 5, 6, and 7 cut out. There also must be no more than three degrees of beam spillover to the other side when seen from bow-on, and there has to be a sharp cutoff aft.
Lights that are flush mounted into the hull at the bow are, by nature of a hull's pointy shape, angled inward. This can cause the forward beams to overlap, with no distinct separation between red and green. It also brings the side beams forward, obscuring them to overtaking boats. Compounding the problem is that many of these lights are installed below the rubrail, a practice that may help a craft's appearance and minimize potential damage when rubbing up against a piling, but one that doesn't follow the rule that states sidelights should be installed "above the uppermost continuous deck." Even deck-mounted lights can have problems, such as being obscured by a windlass, rail stanchions, the cabin, or stowed fenders.
A stern light can also be blocked. Larger boats may have davits or a dinghy mounted on the swim platform, blocking the stern light from the view of an overtaking vessel. Smaller boats often mount their all-around stern light on a pole that's too short, resulting in a loss of visibility due to bowrise or the Bimini top.
Before buying any boat, turn the running lights on and walk completely around the boat looking for misalignment or blind spots in the beams.