Special Workshop Held on Small Boat Safety by Board of Harbor Commissioners

Captain Warner (Sandy) Ogden, SeaTow

Captain Harold CushingBy Carol McCracken (Post # 1,006)

Concerns over the three groundings by two different schooners in Casco Bay over the las year or so was the motivation for a special workshop held yesterday afternoon. Hosted by the Board of Harbor Commissioners, Chairman Thomas W. Dobbins said the Board was looking for recommendations from the attendees on how these groundings might be eliminated. The Board sent out about 70 invitations to small boat industry owners and about eight of them showed up, some with crew members. The workshop convened at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute on Commercial Street conference room and lasted l l/2 hours.

In late August, the Board met and discussed the need to implement a program to insure safe navigation of vessels in Portland Harbor. The two schooners who went aground are both owned by Portland Schooner Co. The groundings occurred outside the channels where the captains had no business being. A lack of knowledge of the waters of Casco Bay was given as the primary reason for the groundings. Often people hired from out-of-state are not familiar with Casco Bay and this lack of knowledge contributed to the groundings. The Portland Schooner Co. owners did not attend the meeting.

Captain Harold Cushing, who has been licensed since 1967, said a person can get lots of training and still have accidents. Lt. Mason Wilcox, marine investigator for the U.S. Coast Guard, said that training should never stop. When he was transferred here from another port, he was taken on a detailed tour of Portland Harbor to familiarize him with it. Wharf owner Ken McGowan said that bringing in captains from out-of-state is a major problem; they don’t know the Bay and he wondered if there is any way to check on their backgrounds for suspensions, etc. Chairman Dobbins cautioned that if the number of groundings grows, the state legislature could establish its own set of laws and penalties.

The discussion then shifted to several other topics including a serious lack of law enforcement in the harbor; more police presence is needed. Chairman Dobbins responded that “we are financially strapped and can’t do that. The only way we can do that is to increase fees.” It appeared that most of the owners did not know each other and board member Dan Haley suggested the group form an association with regular meetings to address some of their concerns. Lt. Wilcox asked that when boat industry owners notice a change in a harbor situation, he and his office be informed of that change so a record can be made of it.

It was agreed that the same group will reconvene to discuss the matter more following the first of the new year. In the interim, efforts will be continued to reach out to owners of the Portland Schooner Co. in hopes they will be more responsive to the potential gravity of the situation.

Capt. Warner Ogden, owner of SeaTow Portland-Midcoast was acknowledged for the high standards for safety that his company has set in the nine years he has owned the fourteen year old company. SeaTow gives 400 tows per season between Boothbay Harbor and Portland and the average length of each tow is just under two hours. “We need to have our ducks in a row because people call on us in their time of need,” said Captain Ogden.

For more background information on the subject, please visit Post # 868, dated August 30 herein.