A watchstander in the US Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan command center received a call from Chicago 911 that a concerned passenger onboard the vessel, Serenity, a 56-foot yacht, reported the vessel had become disoriented in heavy fog with visibility less than one-quarter of a mile.
USCG deployed a rescue crew aboard a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium from Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago near Navy Pier and began the search. The passenger who was communicating with the Coast Guard on a cell phone guided the rescue crew toward the Serenity by listening for the horn on the Coast Guard boat. When the USCG arrived on the scene, it found the vessel transiting slowly with no operating navigation system.
USCG escorted the Serenity into Monroe Harbor where a Coast Guard boarding team went onto the vessel to conduct a routine safety inspection. Except from inoperable navigation and radio systems, the vessel did not have enough life jackets onboard.
The master of the vessel was issued a violation for negligent operations and for operating without the required navigation lights.
In order to ensure safe navigation, USCG offered the following tips:
- Be sure all safety equipment onboard your vessel is in proper working order, including a marine band radio, navigation lights, and fire extinguishers. A free vessel safety check by a certified vessel examiner will ensure your equipment is in compliance.
- Be sure you have a life jacket onboard for every passenger. In 2017, there were 658 fatalities on our Nation’s waterways. Based on fatalities where the cause of death was known, 76 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned—and of those victims, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket.
- Always check the weather forecast and water conditions before getting underway and stay updated on changing conditions.
- Be familiar with areas in which you operate, especially at night and during times of reduced visibility. Operator inattention is a leading contributing factor in recreational boating accidents, causing 620 accidents, more than 375 injuries, and 45 deaths in 2017.
Chief Warrant Officer Matt James, commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Calumet Harbor, noted:
The Coast Guard takes safety on the water very seriously. This voyage could well have had a much different and tragic ending for these passengers, given the vessel had no way to communicate, was lost in fog in an area that typically sees an increase in boat traffic on a Saturday night after fireworks, and did not have enough life jackets for everyone aboard.