Boating Safety

The Blind Autopilot Strikes Again, and Again, and Again

Happily, everyone survived this blind autopilot catastrophe. A similar rundown occurred last summer in Newport, RI harbor as a powerboat operator put his boat on autopilot in the harbor,  went quickly below for something, and was surprised when his boat hit a Shields racing sail boat at the dock and sheered off its bow.  The bow is now hanging on a wall at the nearby Ida Lewis Yacht Club. 

Auto Pilot

Virtually every season one boat is run down by a powerboat on autopilot.

Unfortunately, virtually the same thing happened in 2008 in South Dartmouth, MA when a powerboat hit a sailboat in a mooring field. This report which appeared in the Oct. 10, 2008 issue of Soundings written by Chris Landry tells the tale--

“The skipper of a 63-foot sport cruiser faces homicide charges for his role in a daytime collision that killed the owner of a 35-foot sailboat on Buzzards Bay, Mass., according to authorities.

“Fred M. Bevins, 60, of Gloucester, Mass., apparently was punching in a GPS waypoint seconds before the early-afternoon collision July 18, according to the Coast Guard.

David “D.J.” Walsh, 64, the owner and skipper of the sailboat, died in the collision.

auto pilot

The crew was aboard the boat when it was struck. No one was injured.

When the boat hit us, it was the most horrific sound I ever heard — the sound of breaking fiberglass and the cabin getting crushed,” says Warren G. Hathaway, 66, who was in the cabin of the Freedom 35 when the Sea Ray 630 struck the sailboat about 4-1/2 miles south of South Dartmouth, Mass. Hathaway suffered minor injuries (cuts and bruises to his chest, arms and legs).

auto pilot

"The sound of breaking fiberglass and the cabin getting crushed"

Bevins was to be charged with one count of homicide by vessel, according to Gregg Miliote, director of communications for the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office. Bevins faces no less than 30 days but no more than 2-1/2 years in prison, a fine of up to $3,000 and mandatory loss of his driver’s license for 10 years, says Miliote.”