Harbor tour boat fouls propellers after being blown into mooring area

A harbor cruise boat carrying more than 50 people lost engine power when its propellers became entangled in two other vessels’ mooring lines in Sandy Hook Bay.

The 63-foot Atlantic Highlands Princess, a Coast Guard-inspected passenger vessel, was returning from an evening party cruise on June 14 when a wind gust blew it out of its channel, the vessel’s operator reported. After the party boat became stuck, the Coast Guard evacuated 52 occupants to shore.

The cruise boat, which is constructed to resemble an old-fashioned stern-wheeler, went about 100 feet off course into a pleasure-boat mooring field. The accident happened at about 2115 at Atlantic Highlands Municipal Harbor Marina in Atlantic Highlands, N.J.

“The master … reported that the vessel had lost power to both of its engines and was drifting toward the break wall,†the Coast Guard said. “Once the vessel anchored to keep from drifting, its propellers were found entangled in the mooring lines of a nearby vessel and the chains of a mooring ball.â€

A 30-foot sailboat was slightly damaged; the other mooring was not occupied at the time. The Coast Guard said the wind speed was about 14 mph with 35 mph gusts, and seas were 1 foot.

Atlantic Highlands Princess had been out for an evening cruise in the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers. It was just a quarter-mile from its dock when the weather turned nasty very suddenly. David Pituk, owner of Atlantic Highlands Charters LLC, said his crew had no time to take counteraction when the wind gust blew.

“There was a squall that came through, and the winds went from ‘zero to 60’ in seconds,†Pituk said.

After the Coast Guard used a small boat to transfer the passengers and four members of the crew to land, Pituk hired a commercial diver to untangle the mooring lines from his vessel’s propellers. The captain and two other crewmembers remained onboard. A tugboat was summoned to assist Atlantic Highlands Princess in its return to dock.

“Fortunately the vessel’s home pier is less than a mile away, so the passengers had easy access to their transportation once they got ashore,†said Lt. Erica Mack, a command duty officer with Coast Guard Sector New York.

Pituk said both propellers needed to be refurbished, but there was no other damage. Atlantic Highlands Princess was built in 1992. It can carry as many as 140 passengers.

Atlantic Highlands Municipal Harbor is New Jersey’s largest public marina and is sometimes referred to as the largest on the East Coast. •

—Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff