L OSING A PASSENGER over the side of your boat is one of those things we think will never happen to us. But if you run a boat long enough, you’ll see it happen.
I’ve had four MOB experiences through the years, fortunately never resulting in any harm or injury. Still, any time someone ends up in the drink, the potential for disaster is very real.
Three out of four times, the person who fell off my boat went overboard because they were leaning over the side. In one case it was one of my sons.
He was five at the time, and had been warned over and over again never to lean over the gunwale and let his feet leave the deck. So naturally, one beautiful, calm, sunny afternoon as he leaned over the rail he flashed me a devious grin, and picked his feet up—just to be smart.
In one second flat he flipped right over the side. I was watching it happen, so I was able to grab him by the life jacket and hoist him right back aboard.
The second and third times a passenger went over the rail it was for an identical reason, They leaned far over the gunwale to wash their hands off in the water.
We do a lot of fishing on my boats (shocker), so whenever bait or chum is involved, washing your hands is quite often a necessity. After the second event, at the beginning of every fishing trip I started dipping a rag in the bay to soak it down, and hanging it around the backrest support on my leaning post.
At the start of the trip when I give my safety talk I warn everyone aboard not to lean over the gunwales to wash their hands off, but instead, use that rag.
Side note: you do have a standard safety talk you give every time a new angler steps aboard your boat, right? One where you tell him or her where the emergency gear is, and how to call for help on the VHF in case you become incapacitated? If not, you should. Non-boaters often have no clue what to do in an emergency on the water. At the very least, they certainly need to know where to find a life jacket and how to call for help.
The final time someone fell off my boat it was due to a plain and simple stumble. The young angler was stepping up onto the aft casting deck. He quite simply missed and went tumbling right off the back of the boat.
What can we learn from these four overboard events? First off, half of them, the first and the last, involved kids. Kids are the least-likely crewmembers to follow instruction (especially your own children).
At the same time, they often don’t have the coordination and balance of an adult. In both of these cases the kids were wearing life jackets and were back aboard the boat in moments.
Texas state law requires that all children under 13 years of age wear a USCG-approved Type I, I, III, or V PFD while underway on any vessel under 26 feet in length.
That’s a good start, but on my boat it doesn’t matter if we’re underway, at anchor, or even tied up at the dock. Any kids aboard have to be wearing that life jacket at all times. Even when I’m captaining a boat over 26 feet, I enforce a strict PFDs must-wear rule.
The second bit of important information we can glean from these MOB situations is the fact that leaning over the side of a boat is a great way to end up in the drink. We will stipulate that on some boats, such as flats boats or very low-gunwale bay boats, you don’t really have to lean over the side to dip your hands in the water. So, the same hazard-level isn’t present.
As stated earlier, you can end the hand-washing issue by planning ahead with a wet rag or a bucket. Still, from what I’ve seen, many experienced boaters are used to reaching down to wash their hands and will continue to do so, no matter how many times you ask them not to.
I usually give them a warning or two, then just try to keep an eye on them for the remainder of the trip. I’ve also seen this become an issue when people are lipping fish, as opposed to netting them or swinging them aboard
Again, the type of boat you’re on certainly has an impact on how dangerous this may or may not be. But if you have a boat with a deep cockpit and tall gunwales, look out.
The third lesson is probably the most important. In all four of these cases, we were in calm sea conditions. You tend to let your guard down when it’s calm, as opposed to when the waves are kicking.
Those still, sunny days are the times when you might let that kid get away with no life jacket. Or, you might not bother correcting someone who leans too far over the side.
But if you think you can stop being careful for a moment or two when you’re captaining a boat, think again.
Email Lenny Rudow at [email protected]