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Old 03-22-2009, 09:22 AM   #13
Senior MemberCaptains Club Member
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Jacksonville, FL.
Posts: 9,888

For me to have the safety equipment I have, there was no epiphany or anything, I just decided that if I were to continue fishing well offshore, I needed to get right. Getting right meant an appropriate raft, a well equipped ditch bag and top of the line life vests with lights attached.

Every morning before we leave, we have a brief safety "meeting" where the location of raft, ditch bag, life vests, fire extinguishers and other misc information is discussed. I show how to use the EPIRB and how to deploy the raft. We knew we would never need it but it was and is the right thing to do.

As luck would have it, we did need it. February morning, approx 30 miles offshore, 63 degree water and an engine room fire. That fire was extinguished but shorting melted wires eventually caused a secondary fire. When the wires began smoldering, we deployed the raft(self inflating Coastal Commander that opened and inflated perfectly) and began to get into it. 4 of the 6 were in it when the boat re-erupted in flames. The final 2 of us boarded the raft and pushed away and watched the boat burn and sink.

Eventually, we ended up in a USCG 47' lifeboat being transported back to shore. The captain of the vessel took me outside alone and told me that the message they got was "vessel on fire, 6 people in the water." He said they expected to find 6 floating in the water, maybe 2 or 3 with cheap life jackets on...if we were lucky, and the others hanging onto them and he hoped they weren't coming to collect bodies although that is what they expected. When he got to us, we were dry and safe.(We had been picked up earlier by another vessel). The USCG captain said he had seen very few recreational vessels with the safety equipment I had and was impressed at the quality of the life vests and the contents in the ditch bag.

Bottom line for us, 6 of us safely exited a burning vessel. We didn't get wet, never went into the water. Had a large amount of signaling devices among other items in the bag. Top of the line vests with lights on them. We didn't get so much as a hang nail. That is the strongest statement I can make on why you need appropriate equipment.

Sure, it is a pain in the rear to have a large heavy life raft on board but as one of my crewmen said, no one ever complains about taking an extra cooler full of beer. In my mind, both before and after my experience, there is just no excuse. Because when the worst case happens, are you going to tell your passengers(your friends), jump in the 63 degree water guys, sorry I couldn't find the room for a life raft...or, sorry for the $5 Wal-Mart life vests that are only going to remain bouyant for about 30 minutes...I couldn't afford the good ones. Any excuse as to why the proper gear isn't on board is just excuse and borders on negligence. Sorry for the strong language.

If you cannot find the room or money to get the right safety equipment, do one of two things. Stay inshore or buddy up and go on a friends boat that does have the right equipment. Stay safe.
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