It came naturally for me to make comparisons between airline pilots and boat skippers when I read something that Gerald E. Weller, president of Northern Express Airlines, said about it being commercial airline pilots, not ground controllers, who carry the major responsibility for avoiding mid-air collisions.
"Under routine flying conditions, it's virtually impossible for two planes to collide if the commercial pilot is watching the skies," Weller said.
"Even the title 'air controller' is a misnomer. The guy following the blips on a radar screen is a facilitator, an adviser. The pilot is the only person who can actually control an aircraft."
Then Weller, a former barnstorming stunt pilot who has logged more than 21,000 hours of flying time, gets scary:
"What scares the daylights out of me, even after flying all these years, is the thought of being on a commercial jet with the pilot asleep at the switch."
He told of recent reports of one or more members of a commercial cockpit crew dozing off while the plane flew on automatic pilot. In one case a jetliner flew past its destination, Los Angeles International Airport, and sped 100 miles west over the Pacific Ocean while the entire cockpit crew was asleep.
He stressed that piloting a plane is an eyes-open, heads-up job every second.
The same applies to those operating boats. Automatic pilots on vessels should not, under any circumstances, replace a wide-awake, experienced watch.
Many accidents at sea are the result of skippers who depend upon automatic pilot to do their steering while they do something else.
I was nearly run down one afternoon in my Herald Bird between here and Catalina Island by a big power vessel on automatic pilot while her skipper was sound asleep on the flying bridge. I was able to avoid a collision by steering out of harm's way in time.
Recently a power boat rammed the Newport Harbor entrance breakwater. The boat was demolished. The accident happened because the boat was on automatic pilot while the skipper was below.
Craig Breedlove, five-time land speed world record holder, will announce his plans for setting a powerboat speed record at a news conference today at the Southern California Boat Show. The 31st annual show, sponsored by the Southern California Marine Assn., opens today at 11 a.m. in the Los Angeles Convention Center. The show, featuring more than 800 pleasure boats, runs through Feb. 8. Donzi Marine of Newport Beach will sponsor Breedlove's newest, on-the-water speed record project. . . . John Powell, 45, of Toronto, has assumed his new duties as general manager of Alpha International of Salzburg, a division of Hobie Cat of Oceanside. Windsurfers are manufactured in the Austrian city. . . . Now that the sailboat racing season is about to get under way, Jack Bodrero, chairman of the Malibu Bay Yacht Club appeals committee, has this wise advice that applies to all protests regardless of race or yacht club: "If you think you got a bad deal in the protest hearing, don't shoot the committee. Instead, bring your problem to the appeals committee. If the protest committee was right, which they usually are, we will explain the rule to you. If they are wrong, we will set things right. If it's a club race, club rules authorize us to reopen the hearing so that the protest committee can correct things. If it's not a club race, we will prepare your appeal and present it to the Southern California Yachting Assn. appeals committee for review. In either case, don't delay. There is a time limit as short as 72 hours in which to ask for an appeal."