Loose hatch was key in sinking harbor patrol boat

Marine surveyor’s report says bilge pump on Rock Salt failed after water intrusion passed  unsecured hatch.

The town is signing off on its harbor patrol boat declaring it a total loss. - Rich Saltzberg

A marine surveyor is pointing to an unsecured hatch as being responsible for overwhelming a bilge pump and sinking Tisbury’s harbor patrol boat, the Rock Salt, at the Owen Park Dock on Oct. 3. 

“The cause of the sinking appears to be from bilge pump failure after water intrusion into the bilge through unsecured deck access plate, which provides access to the firefighting pump, bilge, and bilge pump, when the deck became awash due to a combination of low freeboard, non-watertight rescue door, heavy rain, wind, and seas,” William Benns of Marine Safety Consultants, who examined the vessel, wrote in his report.

 “The watertight integrity of the self-bailing cockpit/deck was compromised by the deck access plate not being secured as designed. The plate spans the full width of the aft deck, and [is] 12 inches-plus wide, with approximately 20 machine screw fasteners around the perimeter. Watertight integrity is achieved with a rubber perimeter gasket, sealing the deck plate. On the evening of 10/2/19, this deck hatch was left just sitting in place, with no gasket or fasteners, allowing any water on deck to down flood into the bilge.”

Benns inspected the vessel at the Tisbury DPW yard, and found the following components were ruined and required replacement — the outboard engines, the electrical system, the radios, night vision and navigation electronics, the wiring, the electrical panel, the batteries, the bow thruster, steering systems, the navigation lights, and emergency strobe lights. 

Benns recommended setting aside $175,000 to cover these replacements.

Benns did not mention the firefighting system, but Continental Insurance Co. adjuster Jacqueline Nolan did in an email to harbormaster John Crocker, the investigator of the matter for Tisbury. 

“Per our conversation,” she wrote, “the current status of the claim is as follows: We have received repair estimates for the electricals and fire equipment on the Rock Salt which were water-damaged during the sinking. There is a likelihood that once completed, cost of repair could exceed the insured value on the policy of $255,000.”

Nolan wrote Tisbury had three options: First, to “proceed with repair of the Rock Salt under the policy, but with [the] caveat about the likelihood of uninsured exposure due to the nature and the extent of what repairs might entail …”

Second, Tisbury “may declare CTL [constructive total loss], collect insured value of $255,000 plus salvage and sue & labor expenses incurred totaling [approximately] $11,326.00 for total claim payment of [approximately] $266,326.00. Then, should town of Tisbury wish to keep the Rock Salt, town of Tisbury would be invited to submit a bid for her as part of the salvage bid process.”

And third, Tisbury “may declare CTL, take the total claim payment of [approximately] $266,326.00 as outlined in number two, and if they do not wish to keep the Rock Salt, hand over title and the salvage to Continental.”

At a meeting Wednesday night at the Tisbury Senior Center, Tisbury selectmen adopted Nolan’s option three. In a unanimous vote, the board authorized town administrator Jay Grande to send a letter to the insurer requesting a “constructive total loss.” Grande informed the board there are Federal Emergency Management Agency strings attached to the process. 

Selectman Jeff Kristal also touched on FEMA. “We know what the process is going forward to get another vessel,” he said. “We’ve been in touch with FEMA. We understand what we have to do. And when more of that becomes available, we will update everybody that needs to be updated.”

Crocker did not attend the meeting, as he was on vacation. He could not be reached for comment. 


  1. Anyone worth his salt knows it’s the captains responsibility to make sure that boat is secure at ALL times.

  2. If anyone thought the outcome of this would be different, you have had your head in the bilge. What will the Selectmen do?

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