Goofy Na­tion

Passage Maker - - From The Pilot­house - Ed­i­tor-In-Chief

We used to have an in­fant child, but the lit­tle guy done mac­er­ated him­self. What a dang mess! We couldn’t do noth­ing, so we jes kept mashin’ the flush but­ton.

Se­ri­ously folks, I was on a nice lit­tle boat re­cently, but you would have thought it was the most dan­ger­ous place on the planet. I’m not go­ing to men­tion the brand of boat be­cause it’s not the builder’s fault. I’m talk­ing about warning la­bels. Be­tween the Coast Guard, ABYC and lawyers, we are awash with warn­ings.

My fa­vorite, as you can see else­where on this page, was the in­fant tum­bling into the toi­let. It shows three ways to kill the child—drown­ing, a blow from the lid and, in­cred­i­bly, snaking the lit­tle fel­low down­stream through the plumb­ing to the mac­er­a­tor.

My in­stinct was to blame the gov­ern­ment or the stan­dards peo­ple at ABYC, but the toi­let warning was not one of their re­quire­ments. Rar­i­tan Engi­neer­ing had de­vised this eye­catch­ing lit­tle de­pic­tion of may­hem pre-emp­tively. When I asked Rar­i­tan Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Dale Weather­stone about the ap­par­ent ridicu­lous­ness of the sign, he replied with a history les­son.

“Anything can hap­pen,” he said. “Re­mem­ber the story of when the first Amana mi­crowave ovens came out and a woman put her cat in it to dry it off after a bath? Well, there was no la­bel or warning info in the man­ual that said not to do this so the cat died, she sued and won her case. Ever since look at how many warning la­bels there are on every­thing man­u­fac­tured… Un­for­tu­nately all of us in busi­ness must op­er­ate in full-blown CYA mode. This is one of the rea­sons we never made bilge pumps.”

As a news­pa­per re­porter, I used to cover the fed­eral courts, so I can top Weather­stone. I re­mem­ber a case ref­er­ence in one law­suit that amazed me. A mother sued G.M. be­cause she thought she could put the car in cruise con­trol while she hopped in the back seat to change baby’s di­a­per, ac­ci­dent re­sult­ing. She con­tended that G.M. should have warned her not to try this.

Back to the boat. It ac­tu­ally had a la­bel that sug­gested a course of ac­tion to make me less safe. It was the vis­i­bil­ity warning stuck to the helm. It told me that I might see bet­ter stand­ing up, rather than sit­ting on the helm seat. But when I stood, I dropped down sev­eral inches, thus giv­ing me less of a view of the wa­ter ahead, par­tic­u­larly close-in. For that la­bel to be ac­cu­rate, it re­quired a hu­man with ex­ceed­ingly long legs and a freak­ishly short torso.

I will say that the tot in the toi­let and the swim­mer next to the spin­ning pro­pel­ler cer­tainly were eye-catch­ing, lack­ing only a lit­tle blood col­oration to bet­ter draw the eye. Aca­demic re­search into the ef­fec­tive­ness of warning la­bels is to blame here. Re­searchers dis­cov­ered the ob­vi­ous, that a scary pic­ture is worth a thou­sand dire words. Or is it?

“It is very dif­fi­cult to en­sure that pic­tographs and sym­bols will be prop­erly in­ter­preted,” writes Marc Green, PhD. “One fa­mous ex­am­ple is the tra­di­tional sym­bol for poi­son, a skull-and-cross­bones. Many chil­dren were poi­soned be­cause they in­ter­preted the graphic as mean­ing ‘pi­rate food,’ and there­fore be­lieved that the sub­stance was not only safe but might be fun to eat.”

How to con­clude this rant? We all hope that new peo­ple come into boat­ing, be­cause it is one of the finest ways to get in touch with na­ture and bond with one an­other. But if you didn’t know any bet­ter and saw all those la­bels, you might con­clude that boats are in­cred­i­bly dan­ger­ous—a com­bi­na­tion snow­blower and chain­saw.

Our sig­nage has be­come yet an­other sign that Amer­ica has achieved some kind of crit­i­cal mass in its goofi­ness. And the best rem­edy for that is laugh­ter and a good cruis­ing boat, with which to make our es­cape.

Warning: La­bels may not be as truth­ful as hoped. In this case, stand­ing up ac­tu­ally brought my sight level down, de­spite a warning that sug­gested the op­po­site.

This poor young lad dis­cov­ered the dark side of the ves­sel’s head. Who knew a toi­let could kill you in three dif­fer­ent ways?

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