The following is a typical type of accident due to Manufacturing Defects.
Manufacturing Design Defect and U.S.C.G. Recall Campaigns:
A boat or item of associated equipment is subject to a safety recall if it fails to comply with Coast Guard Safety standards or contains a defect that creates a substantial risk of personal injury.
The Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971 relates to the manufacture and importation of recreational boats in the United States.
The act covers any vessel that is manufactured or leased for a non-commercial purpose, as well as components or associated equipment. Associated equipment covers an accessory, component, system or appurtenance of a recreational vessel.
The act focuses primarily in the obligation of boat builders to correct safety-related defects and imposes the cost of a recall or retrofit campaign on the manufacturer.
There are two types of defects subject to a recall or retrofit campaigns.
One type is when the defect results from the manufacturer's failure to meet any of the minimum safety standards for boats and equipment established by the U. S. Coast Guard.
A second type of defect is recognized when the manufacturer decides that a risk of personal injury exists.
The Coast Guard has no guidelines to identify this second type of defect, and determines whether or not a defect exists in a case-by-case analysis.
Sample of an accident due to manufacturing defects:
An accident resulting in serious injuries to a boat occupant occurred because the boat was missing handgrips (grab handles) at a very important location.
A 1996 SEA-DOO jet boat (Sporster) had the following warning printed on the maximum capacity label:
"WARNING - READ AND FOLLOW WARNING LABELS AND OPERATOR GUIDE/SAFETY HANDBOOK BEFORE OPERATING. SEVERE INJURY OR DEATH CAN RESULT FROM INGNORING WARNINGS OR THROUGH IMPROPER USE OF THIS JET BOAT."
Besides other statements, the following item was also printed as part of the WARNING label:
"DO NOT OPERATE IF PASSENGERS ARE NOT PROPERLY SEATED AND USING HANDGRIPS, OR IF VISIBILITY IS OBSTRUCTED".
Furthermore, the "SEA-DOO Operator's Guide", under items 15 and 16 titled "Passenger Grab Handles", indicates that the grab handles "provides a handhold for the passengers".
The SEA-DOO Operator's Guide identifies two "passenger grab handles", one port and one starboard, positioned on each side of the Sun Seat (forward most seat).
The 1996 SEA-DOO Jet Boat brochure, as well as other SEA-DOO brochures, also shows pictorially that one of the important features of the boat are grab handles on each side of the Sun Seat. Despite of the above, no grab handles were installed on the boat under consideration.
The Sun Seat: The Sun Seat is located at the centerline and at the extreme forward end of the boat. The Sun Sea cushion has a "Kidney" shape because the molded fiberglass top portion of the boat, which encompasses the deck, the structural portion of the Sun Seat and the floor, has a rounded shape in the area of the Sun Seat.
At the time of the purchase, the boat was not equipped with grab handles, despite the fact that all advertising brochures and the Operator's Guide indicates that grab handles are an important part of the features of the SEA-DOO Sporster jet boat, but neither the salesman nor the buyer noticed this defect.
A short time after the boat was purchased, the owner and friends went for a ride, and a passenger that was sitting on the Sun Seat, was severely injured when the boat went over a wake and the passenger was thrown into the air landing on the deck of the SEA-DOO on her back.
It appears that on some models, the Sun Seat is equipped with padded cushions which have straps made of flexible fabric. It has been theorized by the attorney for SEA-DOO, that the straps are suitable to be used in lieu of hand grabs. This theory is, in the opinion of the author of this article, completely incorrect.
When safety is being considered during the design of any type of boats, special consideration must be given to human factors. This includes human limitations and capabilities, such as physical limitations, sensory limitations and reflex actions.
The inside beam or "width" of the Sun Seat, which would be equivalent to the distance between arm rests on a chair or sofa, is approximately 40". The height of the backrest of the seating area, or vertical distance between the top of the cushion and the top of the deck is approximately 12".
In the models equipped with handgrab handles, the "width" or horizontal distance between handgrabs is approximately 36".
The handgrabs have a 7" x 2" inside clear area to insert the passenger's hand, and the handgrabs are located about 4" to 6" above the cushion.
The handgrabs found in several SEA-DOO models are located in an optimum spot from the human factors point of view, and have the shape, angle and/or configuration that permit the passenger to maintain an efficient grip almost automatically. The reasons for the preceding statement are the mechanical arrangement of the arms of a passenger as levers, and the muscles as source of power. In a situation where the body of the passenger is being propelled upwards by the motion of the boat, or, conversely, when the boat suddenly drops and the passenger tries to maintain his body in contact with the seat, the arms are used as a lever as if the hands were trying to lift a weight, with the biceps serving as the source of power.
The straps of the cushion that existed in the 1995 SEA-DOO Sportster related to this accident are not located in easy to reach locations because they are:
a). Too low respect to the pivot axis (fulcrum) of the arms, which is close to the elbow;
b). They are too close to the body of the passenger, requiring a rotation of the wrist to grab the strap;
c). The straps are in contact with the cushion, and in order to insert the hand under the strap, the passenger needs to squeeze the tip of the fingers between the strap and the cushion. This action is not automatic or reflex, and, depending on the tension of the strap, it may require two hands to be able to insert one hand under the strap.
Furthermore, the straps are made of a flexible fabric material, and due to the elasticity of this fabric, it is not possible to obtain a positive, firm grip.
Upon application of a force, the fabric material will stretch, and as a result, the passenger trying to maintain his (or her) body in contact with the seat will have to not only increase the force being applied by his (or her) biceps, but will also have to change the angle between the upper and lower arm. It is obvious that the padded cushion straps are designed and installed solely to retain the padded cushion in place, rather than to be used as substitute for grab handles. The literature and the warning labels provided to new owners of the SEA-DOO Sportster does not mention anywhere the possible use of the padded cushion straps as means of preventing passengers from being thrown out of the Sun Seat, but rather emphasized the use of the handgrips. The straps retaining the cushions are not only anatomically and biomechanically inadequate, but also, they many not have the proper strength either intrinsically within the fabric material and/or at the location of the hardware or other items used by the manufacturer to secure the straps to the fiberglass seat. The location where the straps are secured to the fiberglass seat are probably located several inches from the edge of the padded cushion, that is, the straps are wrapping around the cushion. Whenever an upward force is applied to the straps, some amount of the padded cushion can be expected to bend elastically resulting in an "arch and string" condition in which the strap becomes the string. In other words, the strap is not an acceptable means of restraint.
The Floor: The floor of the SEA-DOO Sporster, in the immediate area of the Sun Seat is flat, even and unobstructed, with the exception of a locker, with a hatch cover flush with the floor, and a superficial pattern of indentations or grooves of approximately 1/64" or less in depth, intended to create some slip resistance.
There is no foot rest or protruding structures to allow a passenger sitting in the Sun Seat to get some restraining assistance by applying some force with his (or her) legs and feet. In other words, a passenger sitting in the Sun Seat must rely on his hands and arms to prevent his body by being displaced in any direction during turns, sharp stops, pitching, porpoising, or by the boat becoming airborne after being hit by a wave or wake, or "jumping waves".
The Back Rest: The SEA-DOO Sportster is designed with a reverse sheer, rounded coamings and rounded gunwales, resulting in a contact area between the back of a passenger sitting on the Sun Seat and the approximate vertical portion of the coaming, of less than 10". The 10" contact is further reduced due to the presence of a padded plastic backrest with rounded edges that protrudes off the fiberglass when it is no compressed. Hence, the contact area between the back of a passenger and the backrest becomes approximately 6" to 8". This small contact area is totally insufficient to create any significant frictional force that may assist to restrain a passenger that is about to be separated from the seat in a vertical direction.
In Summary: In a boat not equipped with grab handles, there are no means available to a passenger sitting on the Sun Seat to control the motions that his (or her) body will be subject to due to any motion of the boat, which are: roll, pitch, heave, sway, surge and yaw and/or to restrain his (or her) body to be catapulted away from the boat. These motions can be severe with accelerations that can reach several g's (gravitational forces) and can throw a person several feet away from the boat.
Conclusions and Opinions: The primary cause of the accident was the total absence of functional means of restraint for a passenger sitting on the Sun Seat.
The Sun Seat of the boat under consideration was not designed on the basis of biomechanical safety principles, and was not equipped with any active or passive means of restraint to be functional in a marine environment.
The manufacturer was negligent in the design and/or construction of the boat by failing to install grab handles in appropriate locations from the point of view of Ergonomics, as portrayed in the Operator's Guide, capacity label and several other promotional publications.
The manufacturer was also negligent by not recalling the boats manufactured without these grab handles. The Federal Boat Safety Act, enacted by Congress in 1971, governs the manufacture and importation of recreational boats in the United States. Its provisions included specific safety requirements for manufacturers and boat owners and procedures both for identifying defects, and for notifying consumers that the boats they have purchased contain those defects. The Act focuses in large part on the obligation of boat builders to correct safety-related defects, and imposes the cost of a recall or retrofit campaign on the manufacturer. One safety-related defect covered by the Act comes to light when the manufacturer acquires information that indicates, in the exercise of reasonable and prudent judgment, that the product contains a defect that creates a substantial risk of personal injury to the public.
The suggestion that the padded cushion straps retaining the Sun Seat cushion in place, are sufficient as means of restraint for a passenger sitting in the Sun Seat is, in the opinion of the author of this article, totally ludicrous, on the basis of biomechanics and ergonomics principles in a marine environment, as discussed earlier in this article.
Hector Pazos, is a Naval Architect, Marine Engineer and a Registered Mechanical Engineer and has been engaged in Accident Investigation/Reconstruction for more than 40 years. He has been retained as an Expert Witness in over 1,200 Maritime cases, related to both commercial vessels and pleasure crafts, for both defense and plaintiff.
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