Spring is here and many excited boaters are getting ready to hit the waterways. But as boating season quickly kicks into gear, there are things that all boaters should do each time they head out in order to reduce their risks of getting into a situation where their safety is at issue, and to be able to better their odds of rescue or survival if they end up in trouble out on the water. Our boating accident lawyers here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina, & Winkleman, P.A. know that accidents occur at a moment’s notice, however being adequately prepared for them is only second to taking the right steps to prevent them all together.
Last week, three boats partaking in The Bass Federation (TBF) fishing tournament in Lake Powell were reported missing, but due to inclement weather conditions, a rescue mission couldn’t be carried out right away. The missing anglers finally made it back to shore when the weather cleared up, but the incident reminds us that boating is not a risk free endeavor – even for those with experience.
One of the anglers that was caught up in the storm decided to share his story, and from his tale, we learned that several small mistake can lead to a very serious consequences.
Winds were blowing at over 30 miles an hour during the weekend tournament, with gusts upwards of 50, but angler Steve Christensen wasn’t worried. He loaded his boat at Bullfrog Marina with high hopes of winning. Though weather reports showed a storm was brewing, Christensen had his day all planned out and never thought the storm would pose a problem. After heading out roughly 30 miles from the marina, Christensen wasn’t too worried about the weather, saying the winds were “light and very manageable. We knew there was a storm in the forecast so we planned to head back towards Bullfrog at 11:00 a.m. just to be safe (winds were predicted to begin between 12 and 2 p.m.),” explained the fisherman.
But nearer to shore, the storm was beginning to brew in an area between Moki and Knowles Canyon. Known locally as “the washing machine,” the area becomes a narrow gauntlet where waves crash against both sides of the channel. Instead of regular waves that roll in one direction, the confined spaces of the channel create chaotic waves, which churn in every direction. The more the winds pick up, the larger the waves got. And the larger the waves, the harder it is for boaters to navigate the passage safely.
Christensen and his partner had made plans to return to the marina with time to spare before the storm, but once the group started catching fish, they lost track of time and made their way back much later than planned. Once they reached Knowles Canyon, the anglers knew they were in trouble.
Christensen and his partner were in a shallow-hulled bass boat, a boat that is not designed for the churning waves of “the washing machine” in stormy weather. Unable to keep the boat on plane, Christensen was forced to slow down and pull into a nearby canyon off the main channel to wait out the storm or risk swamping and sinking the boat.
But having found safe harbor did not mean the end of the ordeal. Bass boats don’t afford their occupants any real cover. As a result Christensen’s partner, who apparently lacked proper foul weather gear appropriate for the circumstances, got wet enough to develop hypothermia. Fortunately, although the boat lacked a radio and Christensen couldn’t get a signal on his phone to call for help, he was able to find another group of stranded boaters nearby at Hansen Creek, and together, the fishermen were able to get the ill angler off the vessel and into some dry clothes.
Stranded, Christensen and the other boaters had no choice but to wait until the late evening, when the winds changed direction, to head back. Christensen’s partner, however, chose to remain in Hansen Creek rather than risk fighting the waves back to the dock.
Looking back, Christensen realizes his mistake was in assuming the weather near the marina would be the same as 30 miles out to the north. The one thing that saved him and his partner was the fact that he packed plenty of extra clothes, water and food. Had the anglers been forced to remain stranded for several days, at least they would have had the resources to stay nourished and warm.
Christensen’s is a lesson all boaters should learn from. When out at sea, it’s important to remember that weather can change much faster than on land. Just because one area is clear and sunny, doesn’t mean that those conditions will hold true for the entire route and the trip back home. Before heading out on the water, it’s important to listen to weather reports and plan your day accordingly.
Along with food and clothing, you should also bring a method to communicate with shore other than a cell phone, make sure the vessel you are using will be able to safely navigate in the conditions it will likely have to face, and that all the occupants have the appropriate gear for the conditions they are likely to experience while out to sea. Additionally, it’s important to always have and wear appropriate lifejackets and weather gear when navigating in foul weather.
Sea outings turning south cannot always be prevented, but by knowing the anticipated weather conditions, your vessels limitations, your surroundings and being well equipped and prepared, the risk of getting seriously injured can be greatly diminished. For more tips on how to stay safe during boating season, check out our informational blog, Boating Season is Here, Are You Staying Safe?