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Memorial Day weekend 2017 was not pleasant on Grand Lake St. Mary’s as most of you probably know. The drowning of anyone is awful and we should more than make note of it.
I heard the reports on TV here in Dayton as we were preparing to head for Connecticut and our boat for the summer within the next week. When I heard the report I started to think of all the times I have been on the water at night and under what circumstances – some good, some not so good. In any event, we were always prepared for the worst with the hope that the worst would never happen. We had routines, we had rules and yet we still had enough room to have fun as well.
Yes, I’m in salt water and deep water, but I also have been on inland lakes late at night as well, especially when I was a kid and didn’t know very much (although I thought I did). Large bodies of water, or small, the problems are similar. Distance and perception are much different at night. Visibility can be almost nothing but the reflection of running lights, if they had them. But there are rules that all boaters need to know and observe.
I don’t know why those folks were on that lake at 3:00 AM. There does not seem to be a logical reason. Fishing, not really. What was going on with them I have no way to know, but a reasonable person might say that should not have been.
I know most of you have heard it time and time again about wearing life jackets, and you are probably sick of hearing it. This was a prime example of when it would have helped. Everybody thinks they are above wearing them – that’s it is not macho to wear one, but folks, they work. The Coast Guard just released the 2016 Boating Safety results on May 31st and unfortunately fatalities were up, accidents were up as were injuries. In previous years the trend was going down and now a significant upsurge. This accident will go into the 2017 statistics – an unnecessary event but an unfortunate fact.
I still like to sail at night. It is a magical time. It’s very quiet and you really get a sense of the sea and perhaps your part in the universe. However, we have rules, not laws, just very practical rules that all sailors use when out at night, whether alone or with a full crew. These rules or practices are valid for sailboats or power boats – it doesn’t matter.
Rule number one, EVERYONE wears a life jacket before they come on deck or into the cockpit. That life jacket has a whistle and a light on it, at a minimum. Nowadays they probably also have a Personal Locater Beacon (PLB – similar to an EPIRB, a radio beacon that sends a radio signal to a satellite showing where you are). There are no exceptions.
Rule number two is that anyone on deck, or coming on deck or walking around on deck has a safety harness on with a tether that is clipped to a line running the length of the boat. In the event that crew member is swept overboard for any reason, he or she is still attached to the boat.
If those two rules are not observed on the boat by any crew member, they will not be invited back again. You don’t have to be out on the ocean with big equipment to be safe. An inflatable life jacket and a simple harness with a tether will work at night. Better to be safe than sorry.
Here’s a quick story. Many of you may remember the story of the four football players in Florida a few years ago. These four physically fit young men went fishing during the day. When they left in the morning the weather was great, but during the day it started to go bad. They were about 50 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico and decided to pull up their anchor and go home. The anchor was off the bow of the boat and got stuck, so they decided they would try and pull it out by reattaching it to the stern of the boat and use their engine to release it. They applied full power, the stern went down into the water and the boat swamped and overturned. Only one man wore a life jacket and he was the only survivor.
I have no idea what happened on that boat on GLSM that night. I doubt anyone will every really know. The only thing I do know is that it could have been prevented!
Stay safe and learn from others.
David Friedman is a long time boater with over 70 years of experience on the water from small lakes and rivers to coastal off-shore work boating. His experience ranges from operating and racing small power boats as a youngster to currently sailing a 33 foot sail boat on Long Island Sound and points east.
He is a 34 year member of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary He’s held many officer’s positions and has served as an Instructor of boating safety courses for the Auxiliary.
We are happy to have David as part of the USFBA
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