Plane to See
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland
“I only lost sight of the other boat for a few seconds as we were getting up on plane.”
Problem: Coming out of the harbor’s channel in his bowrider, John sees a personal watercraft to port that is headed in but apparently still far off. So John nails it to get on plane, and then — wham! — he and the watercraft collide. John admits that for about six seconds he was running blind but says the craft didn’t seem that close. The watercraft rider was unhurt but shared the blame.
Prevention: First off, the watercraft rider ignored a basic rule of the road. In crossing situations, the boat to starboard (John’s boat) is the “stand on” vessel and must maintain its course so the other vessel (the watercraft) can better predict its movements. The watercraft is the “give way” vessel, which must keep clear — which it didn’t.
Confusing the issue was that John was gaining speed so rapidly that it was difficult for the watercraft rider to predict the bigger boat’s trajectory. And John had the difficult task of judging the speed and distance of a small object, the watercraft, coming directly at him.
The biggest problem here was the boat’s poor performance, taking so long to get on plane with its bow high in the air. Imagine driving a car and not being able to see where you’re going for six seconds while accelerating to highway speed. Enforceable guidelines for excessive bow rise are vague, but, in general, anything more than 5 degrees or losing sight of the horizon while seated is too high. A boat struggling to get on plane with its bow in the air is often a sign of insufficient power. If a boat you’re thinking of buying does this, consider upgrading to a larger engine. Most sport boats should be on plane within four seconds. Cruisers to 32 feet should take about eight to 10 seconds. Another good reason to always take a test drive before you buy.