Coast Guard reviews pontoon safety certification

BALTIMORE – The Coast Guard is reviewing the testing process it uses to certify the safety of pontoon boats, after the early-March capsizing of a Baltimore water taxi which killed five people, an Associated Press story reported over the weekend.

“The Coast Guard, as a whole, in light of this tragedy, is re-evaluating the whole process we use for determining pontoon boat stability,” Lt. Joe DuFresne, chief of small passenger vessel inspections for the Coast Guard’s Baltimore area office, told The (Baltimore) Sun, according to the AP story.

“This is not to say that we believe pontoon boats are unsafe,” DuFresne said in the story. “But we are using this opportunity to re-examine our standards for pontoon boats.”

The story reported that since 2002, the guard’s Baltimore office has given every new passenger boat a stability test. During this examination, barrels filled with water – to simulate passengers – are placed at various locations on a deck to determine how much weight the boat can bear without capsizing.

The boat that was flipped by a sudden burst of wind during a storm March 6, never had a stability test, according to Coast Guard records, the story said.

Using a now-outdated system, the Coast Guard certified the boat’s stability in 1996 based on a test performed four years earlier on a boat made by a different company with another cabin design, according to the story.

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