“Conception” Captain Pleads Not Guilty in Deadly Boat Fire

FILE - In this photo provided by the Ventura County Fire Department, VCFD firefighters respond to a fire aboard the Conception dive boat fire in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of Southern California on Sept. 2, 2019. On Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, a federal judge has thrown out an indictment charging a boat captain with manslaughter in the deaths of 34 scuba divers three years ago off the California coast (Ventura County Fire Department via AP, File)

By the edhat staff

The captain of the Conception dive boat pleaded not guilty to manslaughter in the deaths of 34 people trapped below deck three years ago off the coast of Santa Barbara.

This is the second time Captain Jerry Boylan, 68 of Santa Barbara, pleaded not guilty in federal court, although a new indictment last month alleges Boylan conducted a series of failures and abandoning his ship, which constituted “misconduct, gross negligence, and inattention to his duties” and led to the deaths of 34 victims on September 2, 2019.

The Conception was a 75-foot, wood-and-fiberglass passenger vessel that docked in Santa Barbara Harbor. During a Labor Day weekend dive trip, the boat carried 33 passengers and six crew members, including Boylan.

During the early morning hours of September 2, 2019, a fire broke out while the boat was anchored in Platt’s Harbor near Santa Cruz Island. The fire, which engulfed the boat and led to its sinking, resulted in the deaths of 34 people who had been sleeping below deck. Five crewmembers, including Boylan, were able to escape and survived.

Jerry Boylan (Photo: Truth Aquatics)

Boylan reportedly radioed for help after he and the four crew members sleeping above deck awoke to the fire. He was the first person overboard and allegedly told his crew to abandon the boat rather than fight the fire, the indictment said.

He is also accused of failing to train his crew, conduct fire drills, and post a roving night watchman on the boat.

If convicted of one count of misconduct or neglect, Boylan faces up to ten years in prison. His trial is scheduled for December 20.


 All Previous Conception Fire articles can be found here.

Edhat Staff

Written by Edhat Staff

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  1. i have a license as well and have been sailing for 30 years. owening a license doesn’t give you super powers to predict the future. if you were not present, or if you were not a diver who went on the boat or know the crew or the staff there, i don’t think you really know much aside of what the media is telling you. Jerry was a good captain. This is just a massive awful heartbreaking tragedy for all involved. Point fingers all you like, it doesn’t reverse the loss of life. Persecutors job is to make people look as bad as they possibly can. I’m not taking sides, but think everyone should really just let this play out and keep all involved in positive thoughts.

  2. so you would prefer to have them all dead? i’ve sailed for 30 years and agree with some of your statement for sure. Drills should be done and frequently. Us sailors seem to be more on top of that versus captains of power boats, at least that’s what i’ve noticed in my days. I get aboard a sailboat, those are buttoned down tight for the most part and every boat ive sailed on had a man over board plan and a fire plan and a sinking plan, etc. I’ve been aboard many power boats that had none of that. Even this past weekend….

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