Sometimes the best way to make a point is with a parable:
In March 2009, four healthy, strong athletes, two of whom were NFL football players, went fishing off Florida’s Gulf Coast. Forty-six hours later, three had been lost at sea. Their story offers so many lessons to us boaters that I must elaborate. But let’s not lose sight of the most important part of the tutorial: THEY DID NOT HAVE TO DIE. ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS PROVIDE SOMEONE WITH THE COORDINATES OF THEIR DESTINATION. Always file a Float Plan before going out into open water.
Rather than concentrating on the tragic personal stories of the above individuals, I will focus on the lessons that are relevant to us boaters.
When they awoke that morning, the weather forecast was indicating rough weather and seas a little later that day. They went 70 miles offshore in a 21-foot vessel, too far for such a poor forecast.
They dropped their anchor and began fishing. As the weather began to deteriorate, they decided to pull up the anchor and leave. However, the anchor was stuck to the bottom and they could not pull it up. Rather than cutting the line, they decided to move the anchor line to the back of the boat, near the engine, which they perceived would provide them with greater power to remove it. Instead, when Marquis, the boat owner, gunned the engine to try to release the anchor, the boat flipped over, dumping all four into the rough water. Never tie an anchor line to the stern of a vessel, as the pull on the line can submerge the back of the boat and fill it with water. Also, a stubborn stuck anchor may sometimes be released by riding forward over the anchor line, being careful not to go too far and entangle the anchor line around the propeller of your boat.
Before he was lost at sea, William Bleakley bravely swam under the overturned boat to retrieve three life jackets and a cell phone that did not work that far out to sea. Always have a life jacket for each person aboard and a VHF radio for communications. Also, remember to tie your life jackets and ditch bags to a cleat on your vessel so that the line can be reached from outside the boat in case of capsizing.
A Float Plan will let authorities know how to reach you in an emergency. The form is available on line for free.