Several recreational kayakers, part of a Manhattan Kayak Company tour, were injured after a ferry boat backed into them on the Hudson River. The accident occurred in the waters close to West 39th Street in Manhattan on a Tuesday evening. The accident is under investigation, but immediately after it seemed that the captain of the ferry had followed protocol and that the kayakers were wearing personal flotation devices.
Collision at Pier 79
At the time of the accident the New York Waterway ferry was backing up from Pier 79 and did sound the required horn. He claimed after the accident that he could not see the kayakers and that glare from the sun may have been to blame. The tour guide leading several kayakers raised his paddle to alert the captain that they were there, but his signal was apparently not seen.
The kayaking tour group consisted of eight boats and ten people. They were heading south after departing from Pier 84. Five of the recreational kayakers received injuries and were hospitalized following the collision. Some suffered only minor injuries, but one nearly had his arm severed off, another had a head injury, and the tour group guide suffered a broken rib and punctured lung.
New York Police Department boats were on the scene immediately to rescue the injured kayakers. The U.S. Coast Guard will conduct a thorough investigation of the incident and will ultimately rule on the cause and if there is anyone to blame or if it was truly an accident. The investigation began immediately with interviews of the nearly 40 witnesses. These include ferry passengers and crew, the ferry captain, and the kayakers. The captain passed a blood alcohol test on the scene.
Accident Raises Questions over Water Safety
The accident involving the ferry and kayakers is not the first of its kind in the crowded waters of New York City. Recreational boats and commercial boats have increased in number. At Pier 79 where the most recent accident occurred, there are about 40 launches of water taxis and ferries, just between 5 and 6 p.m. on weekdays.
There are currently no restrictions on paddle-powered recreational boats on the New York waterways. Kayaks and other small recreational craft are allowed to share the waters with ferries and other large vessels. This accident, though, has opened up debate as to the safety of allowing these kinds of boats to mix.
Rules about how these different types of vessels operate are limited. Ferries are required to blow a warning horn three times when leaving a dock. This is supposed to serve as a warning to boaters and swimmers. Ferries are also expected to look for smaller vessels or swimmers before pushing back from a dock and to stick with designated routes unless there is an emergency. Kayaks and other small boats don’t have the same restrictions. In the event that a collision seems likely, whichever vessel is less maneuverable is supposed to change course.
Whether this accident will lead to any changes in water rules and regulations on smaller, recreational vessels remains to be seen. Some city leaders are pushing for tighter rules, but recreational tour groups and individuals may push back. The result of the investigation by the Coast Guard could have some influence on what happens next and whether any new regulations are put in place. For now, kayakers are not deterred. Those involved in the collision stated that they would not hesitate to go out again.