B.C. rescue boat crashes into rock jetty during crew’s radar training

A vessel that made 861 rescues over its career was itself evacuated when it struck a rock wall and was holed by a submerged piling in the Fraser River during a training exercise.

Steveston Lifeboat departed Steveston Harbor in Richmond, British Columbia, on the evening of Dec. 11 to conduct radar training for new crewmembers, said vessel commander John Horton.

“As we headed out I handed the watch over to one of our other captains, a master mariner, because I wanted to concentrate on training,” Horton said. “We were going to go over and anchor where we could see better, but as we were heading out, he said, ‘I’ll just cruise up and down right off Steveston.’ So I said, ‘Then go to the red buoy and turn upriver.’”

As he detuned the radar to show a crewmember how to tune again, the 51-foot vessel struck the normally visible pilings and rock wall that were covered by an exceptionally high tide. 

“The fellow on the wheel got disoriented for a few seconds and ran over the jetty,” Horton said.

As soon as the bow of the vessel struck, the bottom was punctured by a piling and the vessel started filling with water and heeling over.

Horton said he immediately ordered the vessel’s rigid hull inflatable to be launched and prepared to deploy the life raft, but partner vessel Fraser Lifeboat arrived within seven minutes and some crewmembers were ferried to that boat. A coast guard hovercraft arrived, as did the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue vessel B.R. Hastings, which received nine of the crewmembers off Steveston Lifeboat.

Horton said that damage to the vessel was extensive.

The 671 GM diesel engine was taken out. While the main engine will survive, the injectors, generator, starter and inverters will be replaced. The fuel tanks need to be taken out and the interior of the cabin rebuilt. Damaged planks and ribs will be replaced. Except for the ARPA radar, which Horton hopes will be repaired, one other radar and all the other electronics will have to be replaced.

Steveston Lifeboat and Fraser Lifeboat are operated by the Canadian Lifeboat Institution, a non-government marine search-and-rescue service conducting its affairs in the tradition of the world’s lifeboat services. The Canadian Lifeboat Institution has been in service since 1981. 

The damaged boat is at Shelter Island Marina and needs roughly $200,000 in repairs. Horton figures that insurance will cover some of the repair bill, but he hopes the rest can be raised by donations to the Canadian Lifeboat Institution.

Steveston Lifeboat was built in Pearl Harbor for the U.S. Navy in 1944 and was deployed aboard USS Midway and USS Saratoga. At one time, the boat was used as the personal launch of Adm. Chester Nimitz. Since coming into service in British Columbia in 1988, it has participated in rescues and assistance missions on the Fraser River, Gulf of Georgia and in U.S. waters in Washington and Alaska with special service to the U.S. and Canadian commercial fishing fleets. 

Glenn Budden, regional senior investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), said the TSB would not likely be doing a full investigation, as the occurrence does not meet all the classification requirements.

“The TSB will follow along with the Canadian Lifeboat Institution’s internal investigation,” he said, adding that a Marine Safety Information letter may be produced later.

By Professional Mariner Staff