Crew members on two Coast Guard boats involved in separate collisions, including one that killed a boy during a Christmas boat parade in San Diego, were using cell phones or similar wireless devices, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The agency says crew members were using the devices for texting or conversations unrelated to vessel operations.
In San Diego, a Coast Guard boat collided with another boat, killing a child and injuring four people. In South Carolina, a collision with a small passenger vessel injured six.
The NTSB stressed Wednesday it has not determined the causes of either collision but are recommending a policy on use of the devices.
"The use of wireless communications devices while operating vehicles in any mode of transportation poses an unacceptable distraction," NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said. "State governments and federal regulators have been acting to combat these safety hazards and we urge the Coast Guard to do the same."
The Coast Guard “appreciates” the recommendations, according to spokesperson Christopher O'Neil.
“The Coast Guard is reviewing an NTSB recommendation that the service issue a safety advisory to the marine industry on the possible dangers of using electronic communications devices such as cell phones, smart phones and personal data assistants (PDAs) by crewmembers operating vessels,” O'Neil said.
The Coast Guard prohibited use of the devices by a Coast Guard boat operators in July and also restricted use by other boat crewmembers, he said.
“All Coast Guard boat crew members are considered "look outs" and as such must maintain awareness of their surroundings for the purpose of safe navigation, piloting or mission execution,” O'Neil said. “Personal use of cell phones/texting devices, without coxswain/crew knowledge, may distract from this basic duty."
The Coast Guard filed criminal charges last month against four members of the service involving the collision with a civilian craft that killed an 8-year-old boy and injured five other people on San Diego Bay.
The Coast Guard said in a statement that four petty officers were recommended for courts-martial on charges that include involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty.
The collision occurred the night of Dec. 20 as boats were gathered in San Diego Bay for an annual Christmas parade of decorated boats. Witnesses had said the 33-foot Coast Guard boat was speeding when it collided with a 26-foot Sea Ray pleasure boat.
Anthony Cole DeWeese died in the crash.
The charges were brought against the four boat crew members under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Rear Adm. Joseph Castillo, commander of the 11th Coast Guard District, was named as the convening authority in the case.
The Coast Guard charged Petty Officer Paul A. Ramos, the boat coxswain, with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, negligently hazarding a vessel, and dereliction of duty. Petty Officer Ian M. Howell was charged with negligent homicide, aggravated assault, negligently suffering a vessel to be hazarded, and dereliction of duty. Petty Officer Brittany N. Rasmussen was charged with negligent homicide, aggravated assault, and dereliction of duty. A charge of dereliction of duty also was brought against Petty Officer Lavelle M. Teague.
Alan DeWeese, 44, of San Diego told The Associated Press he tried to get out of the way of the Coast Guard boat he estimated was traveling between 30 to 40 knots. DeWeese believes he was moving at 2 to 3 knots.
"I thought he was going to turn at some point," DeWeese said. "He came up so fast I didn't have time to react."
"The harsh sound of the collision could be heard clear across the bay over the parade boats blowing horns and playing Christmas music," witness Roger Parrish wrote in an e-mail sent to NBCSanDiego.
Anthony Cole DeWeese was first taken to Harbor Island, where paramedics tried to revive him. He was later pronounced dead at UCSD Hospital.
"He enjoyed life to the fullest," the boy's father said Monday.
Five people on the recreational boat received “major traumas,” according to fire department spokesperson Maurice Luque.
Two other children, ages 3 and 4, were taken to Rady Children's Hospital, and three adults were transported to University of California, San Diego Medical Center.
The family has filed a suit in connection to the incident. In that lawsuit against the federal government, the plaintiffs are accusing Coast Guard leaders of knowing that the boat's crew wasn't properly trained and supervised because of one or more prior incidents.