911 call about disoriented operator ends Chicago cruise

The following is text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(CHICAGO) — The Coast Guard located a motor vessel with 49 people aboard after one of the passengers called 911 stating she was concerned that the operator had become disoriented in heavy fog off of Navy Pier near the Chicago Harbor breakwall on Saturday.

Shortly before 11 p.m., a watch stander in the Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan command center received a call from Chicago 911 that a concerned passenger aboard the vessel, Serenity, a 56-foot yacht, reported the vessel had become disoriented in heavy fog with visibility less than one-quarter of a mile.

The Coast Guard launched a rescue crew aboard a 45-foot response boat from the Chicago Maritime Safety Station near Navy Pier and began the search. The passenger who was communicating with the Coast Guard on a cellphone helped guide the rescue crew toward Serenity by listening for the horn on the Coast Guard boat. Once on scene, the Coast Guard found the vessel transiting slowly with no operating navigation system.

The Coast Guard escorted Serenity into Monroe Harbor where a Coast Guard boarding team went onto the vessel to conduct a routine safety inspection. In addition to inoperable navigation and radio systems, the vessel did not have enough life jackets on board. Federal and state laws require all boaters to carry enough serviceable life jackets, correctly sized, for every person on board.

The master of the vessel was issued a Coast Guard violation for negligent operations and for operating without the required navigation lights.

The Coast Guard offers these safety tips to boaters and operators before getting underway:

• Be sure all safety equipment on board your vessel is in proper working order, including a marine band radio, navigation lights, and fire extinguishers. A free vessel safety check by a certified vessel examiner will ensure  your equipment is in compliance. More information can be found at www.cgaux.org.

• Be sure you have a life jacket onboard for every passenger. In 2017, there were 658 fatalities on our nation’s waterways. Based on fatalities where the cause of death was known, 76 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned — and of those victims, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

• Always check the weather forecast and water conditions before getting underway and stay updated on changing conditions.

• Be familiar with areas in which you operate, especially at night and during times of reduced visibility. Operator inattention is a leading contributing factor in recreational boating accidents, causing 620 accidents, more than 375 injuries, and 45 deaths in 2017.

“The Coast Guard takes safety on the water very seriously,” said Chief Warrant Officer Matt James, commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Calumet Harbor. “This voyage could well have had a much different and tragic ending for these passengers, given the vessel had no way to communicate, was lost in fog in an area that typically sees an increase in boat traffic on a Saturday night after fireworks, and did not have enough life jackets for everyone aboard.”

By Professional Mariner Staff