An unusual survey aka a fall story

Part of our normal business is assisting with insurance claims, many of which result from accidents. There are ”normal accidents”, like groundings, collisions, allisions (when only one boat is moving), fires, trailering accidents and then there are the freak accidents. This is about one of the latter, an extremely unusual boating accident.

I will begin by relieving your anxiety: nobody died! There were two men aboard at the time, one had almost no injuries (call me lucky) and the other was bruised but recovered quickly. Fortunately no one was under the boat.

The story begins with a client asking us to survey a boat in San Carlos, Mexico. This is a coastal city on the northeast side of the Sea of Cortez, on the mainland, near the city of Guymas. The client had a 55’ Californian power boat and needed a marine survey for insurance renewal purposes. The author traveled to the boat and accomplished the survey, it had been hauled by an amazing hydraulic trailer, on a boat ramp, normally used for much smaller boats with much smaller trailers. Prior to my arrival, it had been blocked beside the boat ramp in a dirt lot.

While I was surveying the power boat, the owner of a 38’ Globe, full keeled cruising sailboat, which was blocked beside the powerboat, asked if I would be able to survey his boat as well. He also required a marine survey for insurance. He was planning a world cruise and was applying for insurance through Lloyds of London. I accepted the job as it was clearly a win – win opportunity for all.

After completing the inspection of the powerboat, I began the inspection of the sailboat. I began on the bottom; bottom painting was in progress. After inspecting the bottom, we climbed a ladder and inspected the deck. The owner was with me and after inspecting the deck, I followed him into the cabin, that’s when the accident occurred.

Not the same boat, but you get the picture
Not the same boat, but you get the picture

I was still on the steps in the companionway, leading from the deck down into the saloon. The owner was on the starboard side of the saloon when I felt a shudder and then it happened….the boat fell.

It fell to port. It landed hard on its port side and the masts wrapped over the adjacent powerboat. My client fell to the port side of the saloon and all matter of debris rained down upon him. I was very lucky and steadied myself in the companionway, watching him become buried and then emerge from all of the large and small bits which had been dumped on top of him. My first concern was his safety and health. He later said he felt like he just played a game of tackle football, but he had no broken bones, no concussion, and no serious injury. Our concern then was the bottom painters, and we quickly scrambled out to check. Everyone was unharmed.

The painters had moved the jack stands improperly and the boat shifted, allowing the jack stands to slide up the hull and the boat to crash down.

That evening I received two phone calls in my hotel room. One from each boat’s insurance company, asking if I could assist with the damage claims. I accepted the first assignment, but was unable to help the second one professionally, due to a potential conflict of interest. The adjuster was a friend and long time client. She teased me for years about going down to Mexico and knocking a boat over to get work.
The call to the powerboat owner was interesting, I told him I had some good news and some bad news. The good news was the boat was in good shape; the bad news was that there were two aluminum masts wrapped over the top of it.

The sailboat was repaired and was one of the only boats I have been involved with that was “re-gelcoated” on one entire side. Gelcoat goes on smooth in a mold, but is very rough when applied externally like paint. It required several hundred labor hours to make it shiny again, but shiny it was and the world cruise was accomplished.

The lesson I learned was the importance of safety in the workplace and boatyard. There is a proper way to block and secure boats while hauled. There are dangers and we should all be aware of them, not just falling boats, but slippery surfaces, trip hazards, electricity, etc… The accident happened in Mexico at a very rudimentary haulout and blocking area, no pavement or concrete, no travel lift and no chains in use between jack stands, but even in the technologically advanced area of Southern California, boats fall and accidents happen.


This article was edited on February 29, 2016.