The Pelican was originally constructed as a passenger fishing vessel in 1940 in Brooklyn, NY and known as the Belboy II. The vessel was constructed with an enclosed cabin. At 14 gross tons, she was not subject to Coast Guard regulations and annual inspection, which were required only of vessels more than 15 gross tons. She was equipped with twin 100 hp Chrysler engines.
At the time of the accident, the Pelican was owned by Eddie Carroll, who held a Coast Guard captain's license. It was operated as a party boat operating out of the Fishangrila Dock at Fort Pond Bay in Montauk, taking customers fishing for the day in the waters around Montauk. The Fishangrila Dock was within walking distance of the Montauk Long Island Railroad station. On weekends, the railroad ran "Fisherman's Special" trains from New York City to Montauk. Passengers would exit the train and climb aboard one of the waiting party boats and pay their fare for a day of fishing.
September 1, 1951
On September 1, 1951, as the Fisherman's Special emptied its passengers, 62 fares climbed aboard the Pelican, plus its Captain, Eddie Carroll and mate. The 42 foot Pelican left Fishangrila at 7:30 AM, carrying 64 passengers and crew, which was grossly in excess of its safe carrying capacity. Weather forecasts posted at Fishangrila called for a line of approaching storms and changing winds. After rounding Montauk Point and fishing on the south side of Montauk in the Atlantic Ocean for several hours, the Pelican began to return to Fishangrila, due to rough seas, at approximately 11:30 AM.
Encountering engine trouble on the way, which lengthened the trip, Pelican began to have difficulty making way against the conditions, with only one working engine. The weather changed suddenly as the squall line approached, with a strong northeast wind developing against an outgoing tide. The wind has been estimated at 25 to 35 mph and the waves as high as 15 feet in the rips near Montauk Point. While rounding Montauk Point at approximately 2:00 PM, the Pelican was hit by two successive waves on the starboard quarter and capsized to port, spilling most of its passengers and crew in the water, while trapping others inside the cabin. The vessel then foundered. The accident occurred within sight of Montauk Lighthouse, approximately one mile north off the point in the area known as Endeavor Shoals.
Two private fishing boats, the Betty Ann and Bingo II, were the first to respond and rescue passengers. The Coast Guard picketboat that responded approximately one hour later was only able to rescue one passenger found clinging to the hull. In all, 45 passengers and crew, including Capt. Eddie Carroll were killed.
The hull, foundering beneath the waves, was first secured near Montauk Point by legendary Montauk fisherman Capt. Frank Mundus on his vessel Cricket II and Carl Forsberg, founder of the Viking Fleet, the largest fishing fleet in Montauk, on his Viking V,and was later transferred to the Coast Guard picketboat, which towed it into Lake Montauk. As a result, several additional bodies were recovered which otherwise might have been lost if the vessel were allowed to sink.
Following the disaster, a Coast Guard investigation was conducted. The investigating board estimated that Pelican could not have safely carried more than 30 passengers and that its overloaded conditions contributed to the capsize and loss of life, by causing the vessel to ride low in the water and exaggerating the rolling motion caused by the waves. The failure of Carroll to keep himself aware of the weather conditions and to properly distribute his passengers on the vessel were also cited as reasons for the capsize. The investigation concluded that more stringent safety regulations were necessary for the regulation of such boats. The "T-boat" regulations, 46 CFR, subchapter T, which included routine inspections of all vessels for hire carrying seven or more people and strict regulation of passenger capacity went into effect in 1957.