In March 2009, four strong, healthy 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. If you remember only one lesson, let it be this: Always file a float plan before going out into open water.
When they awoke that morning, the weather forecast indicated rough weather and seas a little later that day. They went 70 miles offshore in a 21-foot vessel, which, in my opinion, is too far for such a poor forecast.
They dropped anchor and began fishing. As the weather began to deteriorate, they decided to pull up the anchor and head in. However, the anchor was stuck, and they could not pull it up.
Rather than cutting the line, they moved the anchor line to the back of the boat, near the engine, which they thought would provide them with greater power to remove the anchor. When the owner gunned the engine 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. You can sometimes release a stubborn stuck anchor by riding forward over the anchor line, being careful not to go too far and entangle the anchor line around your boat’s propeller.
Before he was lost at sea, one of the men 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, a VHF radio for communications and consider a personal locator beacon or an EPIRB. Also, remember to tie your ditch bags and extra life jackets to a cleat on your vessel so you can reach the line from outside the boat in case it capsizes.
In addition to taking other safety precautions, filling out a float plan and leaving it with a responsible party will help authorities find you in an emergency. Use this fillable PDF float plan provided by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Capt. Katherine Giampietro Redmond of Palm Beach Sail & Power Squadron/8 is a NASBLA-honored boating safety instructor with a Six-Pack Towing Captain’s License. Author of “The Chartracker Navigation Guides” and “7 Steps to Successful Boat Docking,” she created boatinglady.com to provide boating guidance for women.