Memorials to Conception victims at Sea Landing at the Santa Barbara Harbor
A memorial at Sea Landing at the Santa Barbara Harbor to the 34 people who died in the Conception dive boat fire. The boat's captain, Jerry Boyland, was convicted of manslaughter Monday in federal court.

A federal jury found Conception dive boat captain Jerry Boylan guilty of “seaman’s manslaughter” on Monday for his failures in the fire that killed 34 people four years ago, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

All of the victims — 33 passengers and one crew member — were in the bunk room below deck and unable to escape the fire, which broke out in the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2019, near Santa Cruz Island, during a multi-day diving trip.

Boylan, 69, and five crew members who were on an upper deck were able to jump overboard and survive.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Boylan with misconduct or neglect of a ship officer — also known as seaman’s manslaughter — and the criminal trial started two weeks ago.

Boylan will be sentenced in February. The charge carries a possible prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Jerry Boylan
Jerry Boylan

Investigators found that Boylan’s failure to have a roving patrol, as required, allowed the fire to grow undetected. All crew members were asleep at the time of the flames broke out.

One of them was awakened by a noise, saw the fire, and alerted the others.

The jury found Boylan failed in his responsibilities as caption of the Conception, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement Monday.

Among the accusations against Boylan were:

  • Failing to have a night watch or roving patrol.
  • Failing to conduct sufficient fire drills and crew training.
  • Failing to provide firefighting instructions or directions to crewmembers after the fire started.
  • Failing to use firefighting equipment, including a fire ax and fire extinguisher that were next to him in the wheelhouse, to fight the fire or attempt to rescue trapped passengers.
  • Failing to perform any lifesaving or firefighting activities whatsoever at the time of the fire, even though he was uninjured.
  • Failing to use the boat’s public address system to warn passengers and crewmembers about the fire.
  • Becoming the first crew member to abandon ship even though 33 passengers and one crewmember were still alive and trapped below deck in the vessel’s bunkroom and in need of assistance to escape.

“This ship captain’s unpardonable cowardice led to the deaths of 34 lives on Labor Day 2019,” U.S Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement about the verdict.

“As the jury found, this tragedy could have been avoided had Mr. Boylan simply performed the duties he was entrusted to carry out. We hope that today’s verdict brings some solace and closure to the victims’ loved ones.”

Jeremy Gauthier, Coast Guard investigative service director, said the guilty verdict “echoes the collective grief and loss of 34 souls that perished in this tragedy. It serves as a solemn reminder of the great duty a master owes his passengers and crew.

“This verdict stands as a testament to our commitment to seek justice, hold accountable those responsible, and honor the memory of those lost.”

Boylan is currently out of custody.