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Boat's safe occupancy level still a question

Police tow in the Kandi Won, a 34-foot

Police tow in the Kandi Won, a 34-foot Silverton cabin-cruiser that capsized on July 4 to the Oyster Bay Marine Center where it was taken out of the water. Three children on board the vessel died when the boat overturned after returning from viewing a fireworks display. (July 11, 2012) Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

While there is no legal capacity limit for the Silverton cabin cruiser that capsized on July Fourth, the issue of its safe occupancy continues to be the subject of debate.

But a Silverton owners association says that, while the manufacturer never provided a recommended capacity for the 1984 34-foot convertible model, it did recommend a maximum capacity of 10 adults, or a total passenger weight of 2,227 pounds, for a slightly larger later model.

Kevin Treanor's Kandi Won had 27 people onboard, at least 10 of them children, when the boat capsized near the mouth of Oyster Bay on the way back to Huntington after a fireworks display. Three children trapped in the cabin died: cousins David Aureliano, 12, and Harlie Treanor, 11, and family friend Victoria Gaines, 7. Sal Aureliano, David's uncle, has said he was steering the boat for his brother-in-law when it hit a large wake.

Many marine-safety experts and other boaters have argued that the cause of the accident was overcrowding, which Trainor's attorney has denied.

The Coast Guard only sets maximum capacities for boats smaller than 20 feet. Some manufacturers specify voluntary recommendations for larger boats.

Nyla Deputy, creator and owner of the Silverton Owners Club website, which was authorized by the company that is now out of business, and the owner of several Silvertons over the years, said there was no owner's manual for the boat in 1984.

In 1989, she said, the company redesigned the model and widened the beam from 12.5 feet to 13, increasing its passenger capacity.

But it was only in the early 1990s that the company created an owner's manual, she said. On page 2, it recommends the 10-person maximum occupancy with a weight up to 2,227 pounds.

Since the older version was smaller, the occupancy numbers for that model would have been lower, she said.

But James Mercante, the Manhattan maritime attorney representing Treanor and his insurance company, said "there's no owner's manual for 1984 so there's no manufacturer's recommendations for capacity. There is also no placard aboard the vessel identifying any maximum weight or persons capacity. The owners of the 1984 boats were given sales brochures that say nothing about capacity. All they say is that there are sleeping accommodations for six."

Mercante added that "the capacity of a vessel is contingent upon many factors."

He said the weight and occupancy recommendations, when they are made, are based on the boat having full fuel, water and sewage tanks and all equipment on board. If the tanks are not full, the boat can hold more people, he said.

But he said he could not say how full the tanks were on Treanor's boat.

"A 1984 Silverton has seating capacity for 14 people," he said, "and room for more people beyond that around the boat."

But some boating-safety experts remain unconvinced.

Larry Weiss, Long Island spokesman for the U.S. Power Squadrons national boating-safety organization, said, "It would still not be unreasonable to assume" that the recommended capacity on the 1984 boat "would be at least somewhat similar to the newer version. It would not seem likely that the earlier 1984 model would have a capacity of nearly triple the newer version."

Vincent T. Pica II, regional chief of staff for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, said, "Knowing nothing about how many children, women and men were aboard the vessel in question, it is hard to know for sure if 27 people were too many. To my seaman's eye, it certainly sounds like too many for a 34-foot Silverton."

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