A boating precautionary safety measure you may have overlooked.
by: Thadeus Ragan 11/16/2012
A friend of mine let a friend of his borrow his boat for a small tournament on Lake Okeechobee back in July and the friend ended up sinking the boat. I was told it was because he power poled down in heavy chop with the stern of the boat into the waves, which is a big no-no. Luckily no one was hurt. The boat was recovered, but badly damaged.
During my last BFL tournament at Lake Okeechobee, supposedly three boats sank. Thatís crazy! I know it was ruff out, but why are these boats going down with experienced anglers at the wheel? I feel, the truth is that you can never be completely prepared for what nature throws at you. I keep back up bilge pumps with quick release wire connecters, spare prop, extra battery, first aid kit, flares, fire extinguisher, life jackets, seat cushion, an engine cut off quick release cord (that I actually use), and an air horn. All those things on that list didnít prevent the situation my tournament partner and I experienced recently.
It was early morning and we were running across the lake in a pretty good chop. It seemed as if everything was going well when we noticed, to our surprise, that water was coming up through the drain hole in the floor of my boat. Talk about getting a rush of panic, we were pretty far out in the lake, and had no idea where the water was coming in or how to stop it! My first instinct was to stop and try to figure it out. As we slowed down, the front of the boat rose slightly and the back of the boat started to slide backwards into the lake! My heart was really racing at that point and the fear I saw in my tournament partnerís eyes didnít help the situation!
So what did I do? I punched it and fortunately she jumped out of the backwards slide, dug a hole in the water, popping us back on plane. I headed to the grass as fast as possible, which wasnít that fast being that we were bogged down with a boat full of water. I figured the grass would help us stay afloat when we stopped again, and if we were to go down, it wouldnít be that far. We ran right through another anglerís fishing spot. As we passed them we were screaming, ďWeíre sorry; weíre sinking and canít stop!Ē Iím sure they were happy about us ruining there spot.
By this time, my friend made me aware that part of the rub rail was coming off on the passengerís side, and that water was shooting out of the hole where the rear passenger rod tie down was inserted. It was spraying like a water hose as the water in the floor of the boat was getting deeper and deeper. As we were coming off plane in shallow grass, I turned the motor off and we immediately ran to the bow of the boat. We did this without even speaking a word to each other. We just knew that if we didnít shift our weight to the bow, along with some of the water, we were sunk. My plan worked, the grass kept us afloat.
At this point we were still confused as hell as to what was making us sink. I thought maybe the hull had cracked. While we were standing there on the bow of the boat trying to decide what to do next, we noticed the water draining from the floor and that both my bilge pumps were pumping the water out. Now why was water coming in when we were running but not while we were sitting? Maybe itís obvious to some of you by now, but we were panicked and maybe a little uneducated on rub rails.
When the rub rail gets disconnected, the seam between the top cap and the side of the boat opens. Thatís what happened. When we were running, the waves were shooting water up through the crack filling the boat up very quickly.
So let me ask this question again, ďHow prepared are you?Ē I feel that, if I didnít have both bilge pumps working, we would have gone down for sure. Or, if I would have stopped completely while we were off shore, we would have gone down. I did the right things when the emergency happened, but we should never have been in that situation. All I had to do was check the rub rail before going out and make sure all the screws were in place and that the silicone sealant was in good shape with no space between the top cap and the side of the boat. Please learn from my mistakes. If anyone can think of anything else regarding safety precautions that could be easily overlooked let's make people aware and combine our knowledge to be more safe.
Capt. Thadeus Ragan
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