Nassau Sport Fishing Association

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Things that go bump in the water

By Capt. Josh Olive

courtesy of

As a boater, are you afraid of sinking? I doubt most boaters worry about it too much these days. Ever since the Boston Whaler “unsinkable” ads, which showed the boat cut in halves or thirds and still afloat, manufacturers have boasted about how much flotation foam they cram into their hulls. Even full of water, they still float — right?

Charter guide Capt. Tom Fisher lived a nightmare on Charlotte Harbor recently. He was heading toward the ICW, having left out of Burnt Store. He was about halfway there when a sudden bang rocked the boat. He figured he’d hit something, but he didn’t know what.

What would you do? Of course — stop and make a quick check of the boat, then the surroundings. Having done that and seen nothing, he fired the engine back up and continued on his way.

But after a couple hundred yards, the boat started dragging. Looking back from his tower seat, he saw the transom was sinking fast, despite both bilge pumps going at full tilt. First thoughts? Get the water out. But it was coming in too fast.

Next plan: Find someplace to beach it. But as he looked around, he realized that wasn’t going to work. He was miles away from any land or bar. Bokeelia was closest, but as he watched the rate of sinking, he knew he’d never make it.

OK, time for one more plan: Head for Marker 4, the closest thing that wasn’t just open water. He made it to the marker and managed to tie a line from the tower to the marker’s ladder — just as the boat sank far enough to flip over.

Bet ya hadn’t though about that! If your boat takes on enough water, bad things happen. It may not hit bottom, but nobody ever said it’s going to stay upright.

Now able to observe the bottom of the hull from his lucky perch, he was able to formulate a hypothesis: He’d hit something large and solid that was drifting just below the surface of the dark water, and it had cracked the fiberglass. Then, when he started going forward again, the water pressure against that crack had widened it and forced water inside.

I heard the story when I ran into Tom at Fishin’ Frank’s, where the shop manager was running around trying to find what he’d need to run charters in another boat. The boat was able to be salvaged, but since it was upside down all the fishing gear had of course disappeared. No word on likelihood of repair on the hull or motor. The electronics are surely scrap.

Think about this the next time you settle in at the helm. All sorts of things can happen out there. Tom is a highly experienced boaters, with many thousands of hours on the water. What happened to him could easily happen to anyone, and the chances of being lucky enough to have a convenient marker (with a ladder!) nearby are pretty slim.

Boating and fishing are fun, but never forget that coming back home intact is job one. Wear your PFD. Use your kill switch. Make sure your bilge pumps work. Have an emergency plan, and have it ready to go at a moment’s notice. Things happen fast out there. Stay safe.

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