Stranded in the Ocean - Lessons Learned Need to Be Lessons Shared
Well, some of you may have heard and for the others here are the basics:
Tuna Tournament this weekend and hooked up with a boat and captain that had not been offshore before. Fished the 26 mile hill and then the Canyon - left for the barn around 1600.
Our boat, a 2640 Rabalo, became stranded 30 miles out around 1700 on Sunday. Most of the boat traffic from the Norfolk Canyon was done and the seas were 2 to 3 with the wind out of the south. We decided to anchor and see if we could raise anybody for assistance. Within an hour the winds had picked up 15 with gust higher and the seas were 4 to 6. Starting to take water over the bow - bilge was keeping up for now and we were getting knocked around pretty hard - occasional swing of the boat put us at beam and we were rolling gunnel to gunnel. Pretty wet, windy and not getting any better. We shot flares at passing boats for the next hour to no avail and could not raise anyone via VHF or cell phones (no service). With the weather worsening, the waves getting higher, the anchor line getting stretched to the limit we made the call to activate the SPOT Rescue Alert (SPOT SATELLITE MESSENGER :: HOME PAGE) that was brought by one of the crew (Steve, words do not express how thankful I was that you had the SPOT). Withing 3 hours the Coast Guard had located us and we were soon under tow - the weather had turned and the waves were 5 to 7 out of the south and pounding us pretty hard so the Coast Guard transitioned us to their vessel- I think that is the first time we all finally felt safe. The Coast Guard was awesome and got us back to port safely - whipped pretty hard but safe!
Fishing with the virgin offshore captain you ask all of the pertinent question, which we did:
1. Do you have radar?
2. Do you have GPS and Compass?
3. Do you have life vests and other safety equipment?
4. Do you have an anchor?
For all of these questions the captain answered yes - so, without wanting to question the captain and offend him before we even went I did not actually verify all these - took it at face value - wrong thing to do.
LESSON # 1: Never have a problem asking to verify. Show me the life vest, radio check, turn on the radar and ask him to show you how to use, etc. Verify, Verify, Verify.
LESSON # 2: Never short cut or take safety for granted. For many we can get focused on fish first - this is wrong, it is safety first, fish second. I have been fishing for 41 years (since I was 6) and have owned boats and own one today and I will be the first to say it is easy to get caught in the mode of always thinking what you have works and you can handle anything. Do not assume anything!
LESSON # 3: File a Float Plan - I would often casually tell my wife that I will be fishing offshore, or striper fishing in the winter, Then I would think the fish are at Cape Henry but then end up having to go to Duck, NC to find them. Seems she would build in the "3 hour the fish are biting" fudge factors into my estimates. Well, the 3 hours that my wife had to wonder whether I was floating in the ocean, or not, was not an experience you want your loved ones to have - File it with them, tell them and make sure you work out the communications and assistance plan.
LESSON # 4: Safety Equipment for Offshore, or anytime really - several things here:
Check your safety equipment like you check your tackle and the 50W and 80W after you return from a trip.
Have Smoke Flares - red light flares are sure hard to see during the day - we had 3 boats pass us that did not see our flares
Flares again - do not skimp on the flares - certainly buy what you can afford, but when you are given the option between a better set for $49.95 or $59.95 - get the $59.95. I know I have sat in the aisle and said, "What basic flares kits do I need". If the shi? hits the fan you will wish you had spent the extra $10.00
If you do not have and EPIRB - get one, even it is the SPOT Satellite Messenger. This device was our only means of messaging and saved us from what could have been a much bigger disaster.
Strobe Lights - we ran a strobe up the outriggers - the Coast Guard said that is what they saw first and it allowed them to find our position much quicker.
Do not just get life vests - get survival vests. They are $50 to $75 - a great deal cheaper than an PENN 80W, even cheaper than the spool of line. If you can, add strobes, water activated EPIRB, flares, whistle, etc. - any option you can afford.
Anchor Line - what is enough? Think like you will need it to save your life one day - buy more than you think you will need. The 3 to 1 ratio works fine in normal seas - not so good when you are taking 5 to 7 footers in the bow.
I hope you do not take this as "preaching", it is not, but after this weekend I learned, ore reinforced some thing - the number one thing is, "Safety over Fishing", even if the fish are biting. I have been in some sticky situations, however I have fished my boat, and others with very little incident - I began to take things for granted. Small boats for offshore (anything under 36 foot I would say) need as much safety equipment, if not more than your larger boats (we cannot afford the room to carry a life raft). If you are a new captain to offshore - focus on the safety equipment first then the tackle.
I know many of you have experiences in this area and lessons to share - now is a good time to remind us all to be careful. Sharing additional tips or information would be helpful for us all so I certainly do not know everything I need to know, so any tips to help others would be good.
Doug glad you made it back safe, as an offshore newbie (to fishing, Ive been sailing for over 10years on ships) I know the importance of having EVERYTHING you mentioned. Type 1 PFDs are the way to go, flares....cant say enough, the outrigger idea for the strobe was a good one.
Im surprised noone saw you, but then again in those conditions a flare on a small boat may be hard to see from the other vessel seeing how theyre focuses on staying safe themselves. How far out were you when you got stranded? Im surprised the coasties didnt pick up a VHF call (or did you loose that? Another prime reason for safety equipment, along with my PLB I bought a handy waterproof handheld VHF).
Again, glad you made it back, having just come from my first far offshore trip last week in snotty seas, I could only imagen that sinking feeling when the engine went quite......Glad again you made it back, good luck on the next trip!!
I guess my lucky angel was looking out for me this trip. Sorry I couldn't make the trip but now I am real glad I didn't. Glad you and everyone aboard are safe!!! It is all too easy to say I will get that safety gear tomorrow or when I have the money but all the money in the world in a bank account is not going to help if you are stranded in a situation like you were. That is a really scary story and the worst part it was real for you. Keep preaching to everyone you know who fishes about safety equiptment, one day your preaching may save thier life! Glad you home safe to preach Doug. Martin
Glad to hear you were fine and made it home safe. I've never been offended when a guest asked to see the safety equipment/location, etc...
In fact, I make sure most folks know where x y and z are when they get on the boat - not just don't flush anything with a string.
Love the strobe outrigger idea...gonna have to find some...great tip.
Max king with Virginia Beach Contender my charter and I towed a boat back in from past the fingers yesterday over 6 hours in the bumpy stuff. We arrived back into rudee around 1am. The coast guard had us check the area where you first sent your gps position on your spot device. The second gps location was over 7 miles north from our transit line back to rudee inlet. By this time the Helo as well as the small boat was looking for you. The Helo circle us while under tow than went and find you guys i talk with the CG Boat that had you guys under tow a couple times. You really get to know people on slow boat ride in from offshore. As allways the CG did great JOB ! Glad you and you crew made it in safe.
PS: Missed the tuna tournament awards party my crew had to drink up my drink tickets and pick up the trophies! Maybe next year i can be there!
Last edited by Capt Max King; 07-12-2009 at 06:10 PM.
Wow. Glad you're ok. Like the Lion King guy above said, What Happened?
I think all the ideas above are great ideas/necessities. However, how helpful is a radar (I have one) in a small boat in rough seas if the the boat becomes disabled? Am I missing something obvious? Does the radar make you more locate-able? I presume it's signal could be picked up by some high tech CG gadgetry; I just never really thought about it.
Is an EPIRB (the more expensive kind, like an ACR brand) better or quicker than SPOT service?
Get a sea anchor. I would be very afraid to anchor in 5-7 foot swells in deep water in a small boat. Seriously, how many boats carry enough line (7:1) to safely do this?