8. There are six navigation lights in the harbor: a set of
flashing lights at the breakwater entrance, a set of similar
flashing lights on a pier structure in the harbor and two green
range lights on shore. I find that Dibble mistook the pier lights
for the breakwater lights. I find that Dibble never saw the
breakwater lights even though he collided with the breakwater
only 900 feet to the north of the red flashing breakwater light.
9. A prudent boat operator is able to identify the various
navigation lights by their flashing characteristics, location and
height above the water. I find that Dibble's failure to identify
the pier lights was negligent navigation.
10. A prudent boat operator would not have turned his boat
towards the harbor until he had seen the range lights, one above
the other. Dibble's failure to enter the harbor "on the ranges",
his failure to utilize the most reliable aid to navigation, was
11. I find that a boat operator who enters the harbor on the
proper course can see all six navigation lights. Due care
requires that a boatman know that he must be able to see six
navigation lights on entering the harbor. It was negligent for
Dibble to have attempted an approach to the harbor with only two
lights in view. He should have stopped and attempted to orient
himself. His failure to do so was imprudent.
12. I find that Dibble should have seen the outer breakwater
lights and that his failure to notice them, even if the white
light was burning steadily, was incredible.
13. I find that Dibble was operating his boat at an excessively
high speed under the circumstances.
14. I find that Dibble should have known the approximate
location of the breakwater and his distance from shore. I find
that Dibble's failure to realize he was near the breakwater
before the collision was negligent navigation.
15. I find that the negligence of William Dibble in the
numerous respects noted was the sole cause of the collision.
16. I find that no act or omission of Government personnel
caused or contributed to the collision.
Conclusions of Law
1. The Court has jurisdiction under the Suits in Admiralty Act,
46 U.S.C. § 741 et seq., and there is no question of venue.
2. Plaintiffs have the burden of proving that the white
breakwater light was burning steadily at the time of the
accident, that such malfunctioning was caused by the Government's
negligent failure to maintain the light, and that such negligence
was a contributing cause of the accident. I conclude that
plaintiffs have failed to meet such burden as to proving any of
the elements of their case.
3. In any event, there is an additional burden on plaintiffs.
Since their moving boat collided with a stationary object, there
is a presumption of fault against them which can be rebutted only
by a showing that they could have taken no reasonable action to
have avoided the accident. The Oregon, 158 U.S. 186, 15 S.Ct.
804, 39 L.Ed. 943 (1894); Brown & Root Marine Operators, Inc. v.
Zapata Off-Shore Company, 377 F.2d 724 (5th Cir., 1967). I
conclude that plaintiffs have failed to rebut such presumption of
4. Based upon considerable expert testimony, including that of
plaintiffs' own witness, I conclude that a steadily burning white
breakwater light at this harbor could not have misled a prudent
boat operator and could not have been a contributing cause of
such a collision.
5. I conclude that William Dibble's actions in attempting to
enter the harbor on the night of the accident fell far below the
requisites of prudent navigation and boat handling. I conclude
that Dibble's negligence was the sole cause of the accident.
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