Gone in 60 Seconds – Survival at Sea Edition

I saw the video on the news the other night of these guys who’s boat sank and one was able to film the entire episode with his helmet cam.  It was truly scary stuff for any boater, but for me, having been through the same ordeal, it was utterly terrifying.

Many of you may have heard the story, perhaps told glibly after a few too many beers.  The truth is, that’s generally the only way I can tell it.

On August 14, 2005 at 1:00 pm in the afternoon in 2-3 foot seas off Sakonnet Point in Rhode Island, while fishing for tuna in my boat, I turned to see a monster wave that had appeared out of no where.  The boat filled with water when the wave broke over the stern and in about 60 seconds, my companion Jacob Kasper and myself were in the water.  No distress call, and suddenly our safety gear, all of it was now under water.  You can read the full story, as well as  a long thread about the incident at Reel-Time.com .

What you don’t get from the video is the sense of dread right after the boat sinks, that feeling that happens when you realize this one, cold, hard fact: at this moment of time, no one knows you are in trouble and no one is coming to help.  You’re on your own.

In the coming weeks after the event, I realized how backwards most boaters are on safety gear.  Yes, perhaps they have it all, but can they really get it if they need it?  If you’ve got a 35′ sportfisherman, the last place you want to go is up to the anchor compartment to get your crash bag as the boat sinks.

Here are some tips that every boater should use to be prepared should things go horribly wrong:

  • Have the right safety gear, and have it accessible from the cockpit.
  • Remember that the number of flares you’re required is a minimum.  That number is low.  Carry more…both handhelds and rounds for your gun.
  • Before the boat leaves the dock, give everyone the airline safety speech:
    • The life jackets are here…
    • The flare kit is here…
    • The radio is here.  On top of it are written instructions about how to contact the Coast Guard…
    • Anything else someone might need to know about your boat in the case of emergency.
  • Carry a handheld, waterproof radio on your body, and attached by a lanyard.  This may be the single most important piece of gear besides your life preserver.
  • Make sure you have a life preserver close by.  I usually sit on a seat cushion type so I know right where mine is at all times.

My congratulations go out to both the boaters who were fished out, as well as the captain and crew of the Patience who rescued them.

A couple of other things to consider:

  • Have you taken a Power Squadron boating course?  If not, you ought to.  I consider it a requirement for stepping behind the helm, and have always encouraged my crew to take it.
  • Sobering thought: do you realize how few boaters actively monitor channel 16, the distress channel?  Do you?
  • How would you pull a disabled boater out of the water?  This is a huge problem, and many of us have never, ever considered it.  Especially on big boats…

Be safe out there…

2 Replies to “Gone in 60 Seconds – Survival at Sea Edition”

  1. Mark,

    Thanks for the great list of reminders. The two most important things you can have with you are something that floats and something that lets you signal for help. PFDs and a handheld VHF radio — especially one that floats and is Digital Selective Calling (DSC) capable — are your best choices, but when that wave hits even a seat cushion and a whistle are better than being completely alone.

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