Coast Guard looks to learn from fatal accident

National Transportation Safety Board and Coast Guard office of investigations and analysis logos

The U.S. Coast Guard has earned a reputation as the world’s premier maritime first responder through our history of saving lives, protecting property and securing the maritime environment. Serious boat accidents involving the Coast Guard are rare, yet the service operates in one of the most challenging and unpredictable environments on earth – our oceans, lakes and rivers. When accidents do happen, we most often find ourselves mourning the loss of a shipmate and trying to learn what we can from that loss to prevent future accidents. When accidents involve the loss of a civilian, Coast Guard men and women take the loss particularly hard.

In December 2009, eight-year-old Anthony DeWeese lost his life after a collision with a Coast Guard vessel during a lighted boat parade in San Diego Harbor. Yesterday, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded its investigation into recent accidents involving Coast Guard vessels, including that fatal collision in San Diego. The independent investigation by the NTSB confirmed many of the preliminary findings of the Coast Guard’s own reviews into these accidents including the need for increased oversight of boat crews and their training.

“We owe it to the DeWeese family, the memory of Anthony and the public we serve to learn all we can from this tragic accident,” Cmdr. Christopher O’Neil told CNN in an interview following the NTSB hearing. “We take very seriously our role as the nation’s maritime safety agency and we’re profoundly saddened by the loss of life in an accident involving one of our crews.”

The Coast Guard’s own investigation into the San Diego collision has resulted in increased navigation training requirements for boat crews, a service-wide assessment to ensure Coast Guard stations have the most appropriate vessels to conduct local missions and a policy on the use of personal electronic devices on boats. The service will also review other recommendations made by the NTSB.

In the past five years, during 2.6-million operating hours through thousands of patrols in harsh and challenging conditions, the Coast Guard has had three boat-related accidents resulting in fatalities. The tragic death of Anthony DeWeese is the only civilian fatality and the only fatal boat accident in which excessive speed was determined to be a causative factor. In March 2007 a Coast Guardsman died after being ejected from a boat during a homeland security patrol and another Coast Guardsman drowned in October 2010 after falling into the water while transferring from a boat to a cutter.

“We will continue to collaborate with the NTSB to improve the safety of our operations,” said Capt. David Fish, chief of the Coast Guard’s office of investigations and analysis. “Serious boat accidents in the Coast Guard are rare and we are committed to preventing even a single occurrence.”

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