Failure to maintain a lookout cited for collision

The USCGC Winslow Griesser was commissioned in March 2016 and is one of eight cutters based at San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The USCGC Winslow Griesser was commissioned in March 2016 and is one of eight cutters based at San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The USCGC Winslow Griesser was commissioned in March 2016 and is one of eight cutters based at San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The fatal collision between the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Winslow Griesser and the center-console boat Desakata off the coast of Puerto Rico “resulted from the failure of either vessel to maintain a proper lookout,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board. 

On August 8, 2022, the cutter and the 23-foot, center console boat Desakata collided about four miles off the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The cutter, with a crew of 21, was traveling westward along the coast. The boat was headed northbound with two people aboard, one of whom died in the collision, while the other was seriously injured. Desakata, valued at $58,000, was declared a total loss.

​Neither vessel’s crew saw the other vessel, despite having the opportunity to do so in the minutes leading up to the collision. 

Investigators determined that no one was maintaining a lookout at the time of the collision as both people aboard Desakata were fishing and not maintaining a lookout and no one aboard the cutter was designated solely as a lookout with no other duties. Coast Guard practice calls for all members of the bridge watch to be responsible for shared lookout duties. 

Maintaining a proper lookout, by sight and sound, is a fundamental rule of the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collision at Sea for vessels. NTSB investigators found that the Winslow Griesser’s bridge crew was not aware the cutter had hit anything until a crewmember saw the center-console boat’s wreckage floating nearby. 

“Early detection of a vessel is critical to avoiding a collision,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. “While technology does not remove the need to maintain a proper lookout, it can aid in early detection, which is why we are issuing a safety alert for small vessels to encourage installing a radar reflector and/or an automatic identification system transponder to improve their detectability.”

The agency also issued a safety alert encouraging owners of recreational boats and small commercial fishing vessels to install radar reflectors and use simplified automatic identification system transponders to improve their vessels’ detectability.

Contributing factors, investigators said, included the failure of Winslow Griesser’s commanding officer and officer of the deck to take sufficient measures to “increase situational awareness while the cutter was traveling at a high speed.”

During the investigation, several crewmembers of the Coast Guard cutter declined to speak with NTSB investigators, who stated that if the cutter had been fitted with a voyage data recorder, the accumulated data and audio could help identify safety issues and result in safety improvements.

“As the only independent investigator of U.S. Coast Guard casualties, it is vital that NTSB investigators have information from voyage data recorders or equivalent capabilities to ensure a complete, timely and thorough investigation,” said Homendy. 

Voyage data recorders, she said,  “are like black boxes aboard airplanes. They are one of the most valuable sources of information following a marine casualty and it is imperative that Coast Guard cutters be equipped with them.”