Whiteboard notice saves fishermen

Lookout! Issue 37, August 2017

A safety precaution taken by a recreational fisherman helped save his life, and that of his mate, when their 5.8 metre run-about capsized while pulling up the anchor.
Whiteboard notice saves fishermen.
Rob Suisted/naturepic.com © 2019
Whiteboard notice saves fishermen.

Before heading out for a day’s fishing about 9.30am the man, in his 60s, listed their trip details on a whiteboard at his boating club in the lower North Island. He was an experienced boatie, and known to be safety-conscious.

When it was noticed, at about 4pm, that the trip details had not been removed after his “due back” time, the club realised the pair had probably got into difficulty. Police and Coastguard were called.

By that stage, the men had been clinging to the aluminum hull of their upturned boat for some time, and were fortunate that the wind was pushing them slowly toward an island. The seas were choppy – which had contributed to the boat capsizing when retrieving the anchor.

The system for operating the anchor also contributed to the accident. When pulling up the anchor warp, to move to another fishing location at the rear of the island, the skipper noticed the bow line, with a shark’s clip attached, was very tight and hard to hold on to. He managed to take the shark clip off the anchor warp, but with a strong current and deteriorating weather, it resulted in the anchor warp immediately pulling him to the stern of the boat.

His friend came to help, but the weight of both men meant the boat started taking on water over the stern quarter. With the rear of the vessel presenting to the rough seas and wind the situation quickly became dire. The pair did not realise the danger before the vessel capsized.

The skipper was caught under the boat, but managed to free himself and join his friend. They clambered on to the hull, deciding it was safer to stay there than swim for the island 100 metres away.

Both men were wearing lifejackets and had cellphones on them, but not in waterproof bags. The vessel’s EPIRB (rescue beacon), marine radio, and flares were lost overboard or beneath the vessel.

So the pair was left with no means of raising the alarm, other than the trip report left on the club noticeboard.

Meanwhile the seas were deteriorating, but there was a strong on-shore wind propelling the upturned boat toward the island.

Once they were a safe distance away the pair swum toward land, injuring themselves on rocks as they dragged themselves ashore. They worked their way toward a small bay, where contents from the boat were starting to wash up.

The flare pack came ashore but they decided to save it, because the height of the island was shielding them from visibility on the mainland.

When a Coastguard boat later came into view they set off a flare to alert rescuers of their location. Rough sea conditions meant it was not safe to recover the men by boat, so a rescue helicopter crew was called in and winched them to safety. They were taken back to the beach they had set out from, and treated by ambulance crew for minor injuries.

LOOKOUT! Points

  • This man’s safety-conscious approach helped save him and his friend from a long, cold night on the island and the risk of exposure.
  • By listing their trip details on the club’s whiteboard, the alarm was raised in time for a rescue before nightfall.
  • This incident also shows the benefits of anybody out on the water carrying a PLB (personal locator beacon) on their person.
  • If the pair had had a PLB or a cellphone in a water-proof bag they could have contacted emergency services.
  • The skipper got distracted by the problem of raising the anchor and did not realise the danger that he and his crew member were in.
  • This anchor system, using a shark’s clip on a line that attaches to the anchor warp, is relatively common on smaller vessels with solid dodgers. However, it did contribute to the capsize. Skippers need to be aware of such hazards and how to manage them.
  • Their boat had a low transom and gunwales – which means less freeboard for vessel stability in poor weather, and when all the weight is transferred to one side or the stern.
  • Skippers and crew must always be mindful to keep their vessels balanced and ensure they avoid presenting their vessel stern-on to rough seas.
  • The decision by these two men to stay atop the hull until it was closer to the island was the correct one, and helped save their lives. This meant they were out of the rough seas and had less danger of suffering from cold water immersion or fatigue.
  • The system the boat club operated – with members able to leave their intentions on a white board – ultimately ensured that these two men were rescued.

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