FEATURE: Staying Alive on the Water

GOING COASTAL by Kelly Groce
December 26, 2022
FEATURE: White Lightning
December 26, 2022

IT IS AMAZING what we will do to catch a fish.

We invest thousands of dollars in boats and tackle, get up at ridiculous hours, endure extreme heat and occasionally risk very dangerous conditions here in Southeast Texas.

Of those things, the latter is an area I am becoming more concerned with over time. After having had several severely dangerous encounters in the Gulf, on Sabine Lake and at Toledo Bend, I can attest safety is more important than catching a fish.

About 15 years ago, my late father Chester Moore, Sr. and our friend Bill Killian almost didn’t make it home after getting caught between two emerging thunderstorms at the short rigs.

By the time the wind picked up and lightning started popping all around we were in trouble,” my Dad said.

“We were in a small boat, and we had to hit every wave just right to make sure we didn’t take one over the bow. It was a truly fragmenting experience, and we were never so happy to get inside the jetty walls and eventually back to the boat ramp at Sabine Pass. I don’t know who owns that boat now, but my handprints are probably still embedded in that steering wheel. I have never gripped anything so hard in my life.”

That was truly frightening.

When I was a teenager, I went bass fishing with my grandfather’s friend Junior Brown on Toledo Bend. We were a pretty good way from his camp when a thunderstorm rolled in. The waves we experienced on the way back on the open lake were every bit as bad as those I would encounter a few years later in the Gulf.

The U.S. Coast Guard is more than capable of heroic rescues but you don’t want to put yourself or them into that position. Always proceed with caution.
(Photo: Public Domain)

Never think the conditions on a lake—even a small one—can’t get bad. The fact is they can get deadly. Never tempt fate, no matter whether you’re in the Gulf or a small reservoir. Things can get bad at both places.

The National Weather Service has some safety guidelines we should all keep in mind if staying alive is in our game plan.

Regarding thunderstorms, NWS officials said “There are no specific warnings or advisories for lightning, but all thunderstorms produce lightning. A lightning strike on a vessel can be catastrophic, especially if it results in a fire or loss of electronics.

If your boat has a cabin, stay inside and avoid touching metal or electrical devices. If your boat doesn’t have a cabin, stay as low as you can in the boat.”

Big waves from rough weather and ships can cause major problems. Be super careful, even on bay systems and on inland lakes.

Big waves from rough weather and ships can cause major problems. Be super careful, even on bay systems and on inland lakes.
(Photo: Public Domain)

“Boaters should use extra caution when thunderstorm conditions exist and have a plan of escape. Mariners are especially vulnerable because you may be unable to reach port quickly.

Do not venture out if thunderstorms are a possibility. If you do venture out and recognize thunderstorms nearby, head to port or safe shelter as quickly as possible.

Ultimately, boating safety begins ashore with planning and training. Keep in mind that thunderstorms are usually brief, so waiting it out is better than riding it out.”

As all experienced anglers know, if you can see the storm, it is probably too late to be guaranteed to make it back before getting hit. Invest in a good weather alert app for your phone.

Another thing NWS officials warn about is fog.

“Chances are when you are on the water, you will occasionally encounter fog, making navigation a challenge. Fog forms when air over a warm water surface is transported over a colder water surface, resulting in cooling and condensation.

Fog is usually considered dense if it reduces visibility to less than one mile. It can form quickly and catch boaters off guard. Visibility can be reduced to a few feet, disorienting boaters. Learning to navigate through fog (or avoiding it) is critical to safe boating.”

• Slow down to avoid collisions.

• Turn on all of your running lights, even in the daytime.

• Listen for sounds of other boats that may be near you or for fog horns and bells from nearby buoys.

• information concerning the formation, movement or dissipation of the fog. Pay close attention.

• If your vessel has radar, use it to help locate dangers that may be around you.

• Use GPS or a navigation chart to help obtain a fix on your location.

• If you are unable to get your bearings, stay put until the fog lifts, but make sure you are in a safe location.

• Be familiar with horn and bell sounds you should produce to warn others around you when in dense fog.

• Have a compass available. Even if you don’t know where you are in the fog, with a compass you can determine the direction you are navigating.

Something else we need to keep a special eye out for on the Gulf Coast is rogue waves caused by ship traffic.

We have documented that here on these pages and in a shocking episode of my podcast Dark Outdoors.

The deepening and widening of ship channels is allowing for larger vessels to come to port. With them are coming larger waves. There is a charter service for surfing ship-produced waves in the Galveston Bay complex. That should tell you something.

Be extremely cautious when fishing around any shipping traffic, especially in small craft. If you feel uneasy when you see a big ship coming in the distance, leave for safer waters.

Take it from someone hit with a wave over heads standing in a bay boat on Sabine Lake, that is a terrifying experience. We were blessed to hit the wave just right, but if it had caught us off-guard, it could have been tragic.

How many of us walk into stores with a concealed handgun for our safety, but go fishing without wearing a life jacket or considering weather conditions? Rogue waves can be as deadly as any armed intruder and accidents can happen under any condition.

Think safety first on the water and be intentional about staying alive out there.

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—story by CHESTER MOORE

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