Case Studies: Speedboat Accident

A driver and several friends were out on a large lake in a custom 32-foot long, 1500-horsepower catamaran-style powerboat. The occupants of the boat were not wearing personal flotation devices.  While traveling at 132 miles-per-hour, the driver heard a loud bang, and the steering wheel was jerked from his hand. The boat went into a clockwise flat spin, ejecting and severely injuring nearly all passengers.  The loud noise heard by the operator was the failure of the starboard lower unit of the boat.

We found that the starboard universal joint in the lower unit had failed, causing separation of the lower unit from the boat. Our investigation revealed that several weeks prior to the accident, the upper gear set in the starboard lower unit had fused together when a lubrication line had been improperly installed by a mechanic.

To repair his mistake, the mechanic replaced the upper gear set, but failed to inspect the universal joint to verify that it had not been damaged by the upper gear set failure. The damaged universal joint was no longer able to withstand the stresses imparted to the joint during high-speed operation of the boat, and failed during subsequent high-speed operation of the boat.

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