rear third, leaving little room to belly on.
I didn’t appreciate any of this until I was
looking at it from the water.
And there, in a microcosm, are the
issues that other solo anglers face – no
matter the vessel – when venturing forth.
Stopping the boat, catching the boat, and
reboarding are the keys to self-rescue.
Along with staying on board in the first
place (see “Every step needs to have a
purpose”), having a plan for each of these
stages of recovery can make the difference between a funny story and a funeral.
One-third of the 610 recreational
boating fatalities reported in 2014 were
fishermen, accounting for more than
reveal themselves. Anglers often venture
out early, stay out late, and sometimes
do so in weather that keeps other “
pleasure” boaters at home. This also means
help may be farther away in the event
of an emergency. All the more reason
to have a plan.
“I fish by myself, probably more than
I should,” says Shawn Kimbro, a fishing expert and the author of Chesapeake
Light-Tackle Fishing. “It’s not a matter of
if you’ll go in, but when. You’ve got to
have a plan to get back aboard.”
Stopping the boat
A boat that’s motoring away from you,
even at trolling speeds, might as well
be on the moon. Stopping the motor is
paramount. “When I’m by myself, I’m
always tethered,” says Kimbro, referring
to the engine cut-off switch and its
line. “But a short coiled tether is almost
36 | BoatU.S. Magazine
more dangerous than none at all. Cutting
engines at speed will get you hurt. I like a
6-foot tether, 10 if I need to move around
the cockpit.” For those who prefer not to
worry about a physical connection to the
switch, a lanyard-free wireless switch, like
Autotether, that kills the engine if you go
overboard, is a good alternative.
Catching the boat
An Olympian in a Speedo can swim at
around 4 knots. A middle-aged fishermen
in cargo shorts or, worse, foul-weather gear shouldn’t expect to
go even half as fast. So if there’s
a 2-knot current where you’re
fishing, and often we fishermen
deliberately target times and
tides associated with flow, there’s
a pretty good chance that the
boat will drift faster than you can
swim. Then what?
“When I stop the boat at
a fishing spot, I make a men-
tal note of what I’m going to
swim for if I fall in and the boat
starts drifting,” says Kimbro. “I
fish in high-current areas of the
Chesapeake, so I’m looking for
a bridge piling or shoreline I can
get to if necessary. I always have a
belt pack on and carry my water-
proof cellphone in my pocket. I’ll
worry about the boat later.” But if
the current or wind isn’t pushing
the boat away, or you’re able to
grab on before you get separated
from it, what then? You don’t want your
first time examining your boat from the
waterline to be after a fall overboard, like
Getting back aboard
“The first thing I did when I got my new
boat was add a swim platform and ladder,”
says Kimbro. “But even then, you need a
handle or some sort of handhold to grab
to help you out of the water. Most of us
don’t have the same upper-body strength
Every step needs to have a purpose
Many would argue that the best way not to drown is to stay aboard in the first place, including Francis Zell of Hyattsville, Maryland, a schoolteacher, com- mercial crabber, and recreational fisherman, depending on the day of the week
and time of year. “I’ve got about 3,000 hours on my outboard, and during probably
2,800 of those, I was alone on the boat,” says Zell. “I crab all summer long by myself.
In the winter, I head out to chase stripers, usually alone.”
For Zell, safety is a matter of technique and long habit.
“I always walk the center of the boat, or have my knees against the washboard or
gunwales,” says Zell. “I’ve never dropped anything overboard because I’m always in
the middle of the boat.” When headed out for winter fishing, he takes this practice to
“I assume that if I go overboard in the winter, I’m dead,” says Zell. “I have a spot
that I fish on my center-console, and I stay wedged between the console and the leaning post. It’s comfortable, and I have access to the controls. I never get up on the bow
platform to fish. I’m on the floor. For me, it’s about making motions deliberate. I put
myself through college working a charter boat, and I learned then never to take a
step without having a purpose.” — M.V.
Ali Hussainy rarely
fishes alone any
more after nearly
miles off San Diego.