How Much Regulation Is Too Little?


David Ryan

David Ryan is a boat builder and USCG licensed master captain. He is the owner of Sailing Montauk and skipper of Montauk''s charter sailing catamaran MON TIKI You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

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46 Responses

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

      What about it?Report

    • Avatar David Ryan in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Of the five crashes cited in this article two were FAA certificated aircraft and three were uncertificated ultralight vehicles. 1 fatality resulted from the crash of the certificate Seawind 3000, and one fatality resulted from the crash of an uncertified ultralight.

      It would be interesting to see airhour crash statistics for certificated aircraft vs uncertificated ultralights. My guess would be that ultralights are more dangerous.

      Mario Vittone, the reporter for gCaptain and former USCG vessel inspector did a quick query of the USCG data base. Uninspected Vessels are about 25 times more likely to call the Coast Guard as Inspected Vessels. I can think of a number of reason for this, not all of them having to do with how well Inspected Vessels are run and maintained.Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to David Ryan says:

        Early US fighter jets had fairly shocking accident rates, yet I can’t image a more thoroughly managed design, operating, and maintenance environment. They were just extremely tricky, finicky, and unreliable.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to George Turner says:

          Puh-leeze. Those early jet fighters would pull out of a dive and bend the airframe something hijjus. Operating environment for those early jets — hee hee — those old gulpers would go supersonic and lose flight control and auger in — kaboom!

          They did the best they could, those flight crews. But you don’t get away with adding Operating Environment to your little list.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to BlaiseP says:

      The reason these people were flying ultralights was that they were below the regulatory floor. If the floor were set lower they’d fly something even smaller. If the floor were set at “you’re not allowed to leave the ground without certification” then they’d drive cars or own speedboats or something.

      The point is that you can regulate everything you want and people will still do dangerous things that get them killed. The best

      Unless you think that people should be prevented from doing dangerous things that harm themselves. In which case, why are you still driving, old dude? How’s that age-related macular degeneration? Any signs of neuropathy? Any arthritis affecting ability to deliver the required force to operate the vehicle? What about cognitive ability? And how do you *prove* all of this? Oh, you’ll just take the driving test? That’s awfully expensive in public-servant time to administer the test and review the results. There’s a lot fewer taxpayer dollars involved in just declaring that nobody over sixty-five can operate an automobile, I’d say.

      (Then we’ll see a lot of handwringing articles about those poor, poor senior citizens dying in golf-cart accidents and won’t someone DO something about the SLAUGHTER.)Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jim Heffman says:

        Anyone with two semesters of statistics won’t ask the question that way. But then, to even understand the answer, you’d have to have two semesters of statistics.Report

        • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Someone with two semesters of statistics probably wouldn’t look at six deaths in twenty years as a problem.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Jim Heffman says:

            Unless there’d been only, say, 10 flights in those 20 years. 😉Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jim Heffman says:

            This isn’t about saving six lives, though that’s important. It’s about the number of ships so regulated.

            Someone with two semesters of stats, which you clearly lack, would know there were once thousands of ships afloat. Only a handful of such ships are actually sailing today. Some are only afloat and moored. Some are on the pillars in dry dock. They’re a special bunch of ships, of enormous historical importance. Bounty has been lost. She will not be rebuilt.

            Now, riddle me this: if we’re to keep these ships on the water, should they must be maintained to some viable standard? I have sorted these out into three categories. It’s like being nibbled to death by goats: I put up a question. I did not get an answer. So I was smugly asked what I’d do. So I put up some statement about how we could regulate these ships into continued existence by treating ships according to the maintenance protocols of aircraft. That’s all I did. Honest Injun.

            I think this is the last response I’m going to put on a David Ryan diary.Report

            • Avatar David Ryan in reply to BlaiseP says:

              If we’re going to keep these ships on the water? What? Just yesterday you were calling Bounty a miserable film prop, now it’s precious part of our maritime heritage. (A replica of a British ship built in a Canadian yard, but whatever….)

              At any rate, if our concern is the preservation of our maritime heritage, what you’re proposing would have killed Bounty almost as quickly as Sandy, though without the loss of life.

              Bounty was beyond hope of being make “seaworthy” by any of the standards offered in the CFRs, not because she was old, but because she was not well maintained and would have required a rebuild beyond any hope of being paid for by her use as a “seaworthy” ship.

              The way she earned her keep (and barely, by the concern for cost that comes out in the crew’s testimony) was as vagabond (USCG certifiated) dockside attraction capable of moving herself from place to place under her own power. Knock her rudder off, as you suggest, and she’d be a floating scrap-heap inside of a year, behind on her dockage, and of use to no one for anything.

              It’s a pity she was lost, and a tragedy she took two souls with her. But this “she won’t be built again” business is really too much. Now you’re asking somebody, the USCG presumably, to get involved in the business of historical marine preservation, and insisting that if Bounty not be kept to “seaworthy standards” that she become a dockside liablity to her owners, the dock and the community where she settles.

              You’re smarter than this Brother Blaise. One might think you’ve painted yourself into a corner out of sheer spite!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to David Ryan says:

                You’re really beyond hope, David. What the hell, you’re not really interested in saving either lives or ships. You’re interested in asking me to propose solutions — so you can sneer at what I have to say about it. A real king of the pygmies you are.

                Bounty was not seaworthy. Let’s get that straight. Given your stance on the regulation of anything that floats upon the wine-dark sea, I would never climb aboard any boat you captained.Report

              • Avatar David Ryan in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Look Brother B, in the course of her ill-fated final voyage, Bounty ignored two already existing regulations that might have saved her.

                When she reached the point that her pumps needed to be on constantly to keep up with the ingress of water she was (arguably) required to make contact with the Coast Guard.

                When she reached the point where here pumps could not keep up with the ingress of water, a state known as “progressive flooding”, she was again (arguably) required to make contact with the USCG, and if she had follow existing regulation the Coast Guard would have been able to render assistance that may well have save Bounty and certainly would have saved her crew.

                But Bounty’s master didn’t do what the existing regulations insist he do. And then he delayed the called to abandon ship well past the point where hope of saving her was lost, and his crew was hurled into the sea by a dying ship, amidst spars and rigging, at night.

                What sort of regulation would you propose against this willfulness? What in this tragedy shows a great vulnerability in the current regulations that expose the public at large to hazard?

                You’re not interested in saving ships, or even in thinking about the moral and regulatory quandary that is presented by the Bounty’s sinking. You want somebody to do something, but you haven’t though long or hard about what that “something” might be.

                I have, as much as I can, with my admittedly limited, but professional capacity as a mariner thought this through, and short of the “manifestly unsafe voyage” provision, which the Coast Guard deploys on a extremely limited, circumstantial and case by case basis to order a master and his crew off his boat, cannot come up with an government enforced/enforceable, widely applicable (even across only “tall ships” whatever that might mean) regime that would have either a) saved Bounty; or be implementable across the class.

                My “stance on anything that floats upon the wine-dark sea”? I favor regulation of commercial vessels, I’ve said so repeatedly, and as proof I have availed both myself and my boat of said regulations. You defame me by suggesting otherwise.

                I favor Coast Guard and state efforts to educate private mariners. I do not believe that the money or the political will or the facilities exist to subject private boats to the same level of scrutiny as commercial vessels. Given the scope of problem, as shocking as it is when accidents happen (last summers capsize of a dangerously overloaded private boat resulting in the deaths of two children) it does not seem the most urgent matter.

                Neither you nor anyone else, not here at the League nor anywhere I have been following this, has managed to design a regime that could capture Bounty within its regulatory grasp without sweeping up hundreds if not thousands of other boats. Where will the money, the personnel, the haul-out facilities come from? Will you simply say all “Sailing Vessels over 100 gross tons”? Then next week, or next year an old oyster smack will capsize on the Chesapeake with loss of life and you’ll cry out “Heritage”, right?

                Bounty is a troubling case, for sure. But the fault lies with her owner and master, not with the regulation. If there were an obvious fix, it would be, you know, obvious.

                You suggested “tear these historical important ships apart and put them back together every five years, like an airliner” The only thing that’s obvious about that is it’s not going to happen. It won’t pay. And if the regulation won’t pay, that’s the end of these ships forever. (On that point, it’s worth asking why Sailing School Vessels (subchapter R) are less tightly regulated than Inspected Passenger Vessels (subchapter T)

                In any case, there are no hard feeling here. If you find yourself in Montauk you and yours are welcome to be my guests on MON TIKI. She’s a USCG Inspected Vessel, designed, built and maintained under Coast Guard supervision, which is more than can be said for Bounty!Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to David Ryan says:

                Well from a different perspective, if you looked at Bounty’s safety stats for deaths per passenger mile, or especially deaths per passenger hour, it’s probably a very, very low number, one I imagine many personal watercraft like Waverunners and SkiDoos couldn’t remotely match.

                We don’t hold recreational watercraft to airline maintenance standards because we don’t expect them to be as safe as an airliner, and we possibly don’t want them to be as safe as an airliner (no risk, no fun). They’re not being operating to get pregnant mothers home for Thanksgiving, they’re being operated so people can goof off and blow off steam.

                If we really wanted to make ships like Bounty safe, we wouldn’t let anyone up in the rigging, since they could easily suffer a fatal fall to the deck. We also wouldn’t allow ropes to run all over the place, presenting a variety of hazards to the unwary. We wouldn’t even allow such ships to exist. Then we’d ban all the other big sailboats, which operate on big puff away from capsizing and have spars that swing across the deck without an OSHA approved “beep beep” sound and 15 second warning period. Then we ban small sailboats like Lazers and windsurfers because they capsize daily.

                The Bounty probably missed having a long and perfect safety record only by two bad desicisions by her captain. What her sinking tells us is that the Coast Guard needs to add a regulation saying “Captains shall exercise sound judgement,” but that’s probably already on the books.Report

            • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to BlaiseP says:

              “Someone with two semesters of stats, which you clearly lack, would know there were once thousands of ships afloat. ”

              But the article you linked was about airplanes…?Report

  1. Avatar Citizen says:

    The haunting words of a safety engineer have repeatedly rang in my ears over the course of many years:
    “You are responsible for your own safety”

    Well regulated, maintained, inspected, licensed, permitted vehicles fall from grace everyday.
    Once you resign that the first order of business of any vehicle is to kill you, you start to understand the parameters necessary to stay alive.

    Tractors kill alot of folks in the middle of nowhere, as well as hang gliders and motorcycles. Regulation has saved my bacon far less than, damn, that tire looks low.Report

    • Avatar Bob2 in reply to Citizen says:

      How can you prove regulation hasn’t saved you?Report

    • Avatar David Ryan in reply to Citizen says:

      People who are capable of complying with regulations probably don’t need them. The regulations are there to keep the people who can’t comply out of the regulated activity.Report

    • Avatar Citizen in reply to Citizen says:

      I am sure that regulation has saved me at various points in time. My point is that there is a balance of regulation, and self awareness.

      There are so many things that aren’t regulated at which point a person should really be more concerned about being aware.

      The fact that something was inspected X time ago doesn’t excuse an operators responsibility to remain aware of potentials.Report

      • Avatar Bob2 in reply to Citizen says:

        It was an honest question.
        “Regulation has saved my bacon far less than, damn, that tire looks low.” is a non-falsifiable statement.

        While I’m extremely sympathetic to your view that everyone should be aware while driving, and that your general awareness may have saved you from being the cause of an accident, it does not prevent people from crashing into you and killing you through no fault of your own because their brakes have never been inspected.

        That kind of statement about regulation saving you less than your own self-awareness is kind of like saying saying preventative healthcare measures don’t ever save you because you never ever get sick. Ugh, vaccine conspiracists.

        There actually is data on comparative rates of airline safety from airline to airline and country to country, but it’s beyond my scope to really check at the moment. I suppose if you wanted to check how regulations function in safety, you could check accidents rates between years before and after enacting regulations. You could also check between countries and which types of regulations they have. Auto deaths took a giant drop after Nader pushed seatbelt requirements, and MADD, drunk driving awareness campaigns, and drunk driving penalties have pushed the drunk driving death rates to record lows.Report

        • Avatar kenB in reply to Bob2 says:

          you could check accidents rates between years before and after enacting regulations.

          But to make a reasonable judgment on the desirability of the regulation, you’d also want to find some way to quantify the costs of the regulations, both monetary and non-, and then weigh the costs against the benefits.Report

          • Avatar LWA in reply to kenB says:

            With all the pixels and newsprint that has been exhausted on the subject of government regulation, one would think this sort of thing has been done.Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to Bob2 says:

          I don’t know that brake inspections actually help prevent many accidents, as opposed to people realizing their brake fluid is low or that they’re having some issues. Vehicle awareness undoubtedly does the most to prevent accidents due to mechanical failure.

          As a side note, people who’ve had two or three drinks have very, very few accidents, far fewer than completely sober people. ^_^

          This ia an amusing thing that stands out in drunk driving stats, explained because almost everyone on the road is stone cold sober (going back and forth to work, stores, and schools). Only a minor few have been drinking, and of those, it’s the fewer drunks who can’t drive for spit and cause half the accidents. So most accidents involve the legions of sober people and the drunks. I sometimes wonder how easy it would be to use this stat to convince a college kid in a bar that he really does drive better with a few beers in him. I’d guess “pretty darn easy.”Report

          • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to George Turner says:

            One thing I recall from driver training is that the roads become much less safe after 10:00 PM, which led me to picture the following conversation:

            “Son, do you even know how fast you were going?”

            “About 95, officer.”

            “Now, you know how dangerous that is.”

            “No, it’s all about safety. I was trying to get home by 10.”Report

        • Avatar Citizen in reply to Bob2 says:

          Unfortunately there is no way to capture near miss data instead of crash data. So it becomes an argument in the abstract.Report

          • Avatar Bob2 in reply to Citizen says:

            Crash data probably correlates well with near miss data tbqh in terms of ratios if you have a large enough sample size, but yes, it’d probably be hard to calculate.

            Still a neat study to read since I was driving behind a car whose back left tire blew out on the highway going 60 mph. Fortunately, I keep a massive stopping distance in front of me when the roads are relatively empty, and I watched guy the spin to the left in a full loop with sparks flying. All his wheels were bent by the time he pulled over.
            After I pulled over to check on him, he tried to get me to drive his wife and kids home while he waited for police. Um. No. Okay.Report

  2. Avatar George Turner says:

    As a knee-jerk regulatory measure that would’ve helped fix this, how about putting three-masted square riggers in their own category? If that’s too broad then three-masted square rig designs with a history of prior mutinies.Report

    • Avatar David Ryan in reply to George Turner says:

      The scuttlebutt is that the tall ship community (best defined as big boats that look like pirate ships) is very unhappy about all of this. Because of her namesakes’s history, Bounty was a star attraction in the “industry” and what’s happened is no good for anyone. I expect tall ship operators who are already operating Inspected Passenger Vessels to be very laws to any sort of regs that would bring boats like Bounty under the regulatory penumbra, and anything else that will help them tell their customers “Well yes, our boat looks like Bounty, but it isn’t anything like Bounty.”Report

  3. Avatar Kolohe says:

    this one hits all the buttons: boats, bureaucracy, Homeland SecurityReport

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kolohe says:

      And people still wonder why we’re libertarians.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to James Hanley says:

        Because we immediately empathize with rich white people problems?Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kolohe says:

          Heh, I’m sure there’s someone reading this who’s eager to believe that. But I prefer to point out to them that if the government can treat rich white people buying boats this way, just imagine how it will treat poor non-white people buying [insert item of your choice here].Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to James Hanley says:

            (though honestly, the first thing I thought of was ‘dude, the US CAN exchange rate is pretty close to parity, why are you farting around with this?’)Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kolohe says:

              I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that a recording of the conversation would come across differently that what was presented.

              (Usually you’re farting around with this because you’re being a douche.)Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kolohe says:

              I don’t know. I think there’s good reason to be hesitant to sign a government document when your signature is a claim to accurate information and you know it’s not accurate. Even if the difference between $US and $CAN is small right now, you’re still talking about knowingly violating federal law. And that after you’ve tipped off the federal agent to the fact that if you sign it you’re violating federal law.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Hanley says:


                I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that there’s still a way to do this with the end goal of getting your boat through customs as quickly as possible, and a way to do it with the end goal of getting the piece of paper correct.

                And it just strikes me – from my experience – that the people in the second category are highly correlated with unpleasant people. At which point, yes, the customer service representative from the DHS ought to maintain their composure and all that. The person in question undoubtedly deserves a talking-to.

                But anybody who screams, “the government stole my boat because they’re just power mad assholes!” is not to be trusted to be entirely accurate.

                ‘Cause, you know, the boat isn’t stolen. It’s just not through customs yet.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I don’t think even an asshole should be asked by federal authorities to falsify a paper. And I’ve had enough bad experiences with U.S. customs/border patrol officials that I’m primed to believe just about any stories about them. The most recent was when my wife and I drove up to Windsor a few years back. Coming back into the U.S. she was driving, and the U.S. border official asked where we were from. My wife said, “Michigan,” and after a longish pause the guy snarled (and I do mean snarled), “what about you!?” Since I was sitting in the passenger seat I was expecting to let my wife do all the talking–all my experiences crossing the border had been that everything went more smoothly when passengers kept their mouths shut unless asked a direct question. “I’m with her,” I replied, “I’m from Michigan, too.” “Well, why didn’t you say so?” Then he asked for ID, and we handed over our driver’s licenses. He got angry and very aggressively demanded to know why we didn’t have our passports. “I though that law didn’t take effect until next year,” I replied. “Well, it doesn’t, but you should have your passports anyway–how do I know if you’re really U.S. citizens or not?” At that point I very pointedly asked if I was required to obey a law that wasn’t in effect yet, which actually backed him down a bit.

                But, border agents. They’re like folks who’ve proven their abilities to be a jerk through a stint in the TSA and have been promoted.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Hanley says:

                I don’t think even an asshole should be asked by federal authorities to falsify a paper.

                No, he shouldn’t.

                But the whole, “the government stole my boat!” business makes me wonder if in fact he was asked to falsify a paper, in the first place.

                And I’ve had enough bad experiences with U.S. customs/border patrol officials that I’m primed to believe just about any stories about them.

                Eh, fair ’nuff. I’ve only had pleasant conversations with border guards, myself, but it’s certainly the case that it’s totally possible that the guy’s account is accurate.

                Again, this is why you just record the conversation in the first place.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

                It was US border agents in the Peter Watts case. Sounds like the same guys James dealt with:


    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kolohe says:

      The moral of this story is, “When you are interacting with government officials in their official capacity, you record the conversation on your smart phone.”Report

  4. Avatar Shazbot5 says:

    I’ve been thinking about this whole boat regulation thing for a few seconds now, and I think the best solution is to just ignore issues regarding boats.Report