Experts: No safety margin with 27 onboard

This is a1984 Silverton Convertible 34 cabin cruiser

This is a1984 Silverton Convertible 34 cabin cruiser similar to the one invoved in a a fatal boating accident off of Lloyd Neck on July 4th. This boat is for sale and is featured on www.powerboatlistings.com. (Credit: powerboatlistings.com)

Boating safety experts and yacht dealers say putting 27 people on a 34-foot cabin cruiser leaves no margin for error.

"I just can't imagine 27 people on that boat," said Larry Weiss of Plainview, the Long Island spokesman for the boating safety group U.S. Power Squadrons.

Weiss, who owns a boat similar to the 1984 Silverton 34 Convertible involved in Wednesday night's capsizing in Oyster Bay, said he also went out to watch the July 4 fireworks off Cove Neck. He said he had only 10 people aboard, in part because of predicted thunderstorms.

Philip Cappel, a former Huntington resident who is a recreational safety administrator for the Coast Guard, said "our capacity regulations for recreational boats only go up to 20 feet."

"The reason there are no regulations is that you rarely see a 34-foot boat capsizing unless it's really bad weather," Cappel said.

He said manufacturers normally also do not issue capacity guidelines for boats over 20 feet, leaving the question to the discretion of the operator.

Safety experts say the number and weight of people onboard is a factor in a boat's stability, as is where they are on the vessel.

"That's a lot of people," Cappel said of the 27 onboard the Silverton. "But in calm weather, a boat that size, if it's loaded properly . . . shouldn't really be that big of a problem.

"Too many people up higher, on the main deck or up on the flying bridge, is going to cause a problem," Cappel said.

The stability of the boat is determined in part by its center of gravity, experts said. More weight higher on the boat makes it top heavy and more likely to roll over.

The manufacturer, Silverton Marine Corp. of Millville, N.J., was closed for the holiday week.

Weiss said there is a formula for determining a safe capacity for a larger recreational boat. It's length times width divided by 15. He said that would probably allow 25 people on a 34-footer.

"So technically it might be possible capacity-wise, but that doesn't mean it's smart," he said.

Carl Darenberg, a broker at Montauk Marine Basin who has sold Silverton 34s, said "with a boat like that usually your maximum would be about 10 people."

Another issue to be resolved by salvage of the boat is whether there was a mechanical problem such as a broken through-hull valve or bilge pump that could have allowed water in and made the boat unstable.

"That causes real problems, especially if you have that many people on the boat," Capell said.

Sal Aureliano, who identified himself as the driver of the Silverton, told News 12 Long Island he was heading home when the weather began to worsen. He found himself between two vessels and their wakes.

"There was a wave that got us and I couldn't right the boat," said Aureliano, who did not speak to the overcrowding issue.

Weather may have played a role, even though the storm came through after the capsize. Weiss said, "the storm may not have been a factor, but the running from the potential storm may have been a factor."

Another unanswered safety issue is whether the operator had a flotation device for every person onboard, as required by law.

The Coast Guard is investigating that question along with possible overloading, as are Nassau police.

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