INVESTIGATOR’S TOOLBOX - Spring 98

Often, an expert will go "on scene" to review the area in which an injury or fire occurred or the condition of vessels after they have collided. In fact, if at all possible, this should be done because it increases the credibility of the expert when he is asked for an opinion. While "on scene", he will want to record what he sees, not only for his own recollection at some later date, but to show the trier of fact - the judge or jury. To do this, you need certain equipment, and you need to have it with you when you visit "the scene."

The Coast Guard has made up a list of items they recommend their investigators carry. A review of it indicates it is quite thorough. The following is an extract of chapter 10 of the Marine Safety Manual, volume V.

During our field investigations, we made every effort to employ tools and techniques which would be available to the average investigator. Expensive and sophisticated equipment was avoided. By far the most expensive and complex piece of gear we used was a [still] camera, and occasionally a video camera. Our equipment list was further limited to what was small enough to fit into a travel bag and would be permitted [to be hand carried] on an airplane.. .

A good toolkit should contain the following items:

A few items are worthy of explanation. The portable stadia rod (item 11) is visible in many accident photos. It is like a wide tape measure, except that ours had the unusual characteristic that it could stand up just like a rod when it was removed from its case. Many survey supply stores will carry such equipment. It proved a very useful item.

The inclinometer, (item 10) is an instrument used to determine angles from a vertical [or horizontal] line. It is useful for measuring the deadrise and transom angle, and the angles of other hull surfaces. It can also be used to determine if a boat is sitting level, either fore and aft, or side to side. [It can be most helpful in determining the inclination of stairs on which someone has slipped].

A flexible curve (item 20) is an interesting device that is incredibly useful for making drawings of boat hulls. It is about 12" long, and can be thought of as a flexible ruler. It will stay in roughly whatever shape it is bent, and can be used to draw the curved surfaces of boat hulls with ease. It helps make accurate on site drawings of boats. These devices can usually be ordered from office supply houses that sell drafting supplies.

A plumb bob is an essential aid when recording boat dimensions. To measure the overall length, the plumb bob can be used to find the spot on the ground directly beneath the bow. The same procedure can be used at the stern and then the distance can be measured on the ground from one spot to the other.

The various tapes can be placed on the scene before it is photographed to emphasis or draw attention to significant items or marks. The silly putty will hold index cards with information printed boldly on them with a felt tipped pen temporarily in place for photographs.

A portable bag (backpack) with these items in them should make the job of an investigator/expert much easier to record.

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