MAKING YOUR FISHING BOAT SAFE
I have this big bass boat.
My boat is obviously a dangerous piece of equipment.
- It can go as fast as my car is allowed to go on most Interstate highways.
- It is normally loaded with flammable gasoline.
- It is made of fiberglass and other materials which can burn hot and fast. v
- It has a stainless steel protrusion on the 200 horsepower motor that can decapitate a person.
- I usually run it in places that I cannot see what obstacles are underwater in front of me.
- It has a steering system of the type that has been known to break, or come disengaged from the motor.
- Many people are killed, maimed and injured in, or by, boats each year.
Your boat is probably dangerous, too. It may not be as big or fast and it may not carry as much fuel as mine. But, people in small boats die each year, too.
It is a fact that accidents happen quickly, without warning and you usually have no time whatever to react. That is the usual way that it works. And, they don't always happen to the other guy.
Let me tell you a few short stories.
While zipping across the waters of Alabama's famous Lake Eufaula, I once found myself suddenly holding an unattached steering wheel. The steering shaft nut had vibrated off, but could not be seen under the center cover of the wheel. After hitting enough waves and me jerking and holding onto that wheel, the keylock loosened and I found myself in a whole lot of trouble. Familiarity with having positive kill switch on the ignition led to a quick reaction and saved a major accident that day. This same event also occurred once when the steering cable connection broke at the motor. Again, the ability to stop the motor with a kill switch saved an accident.
A beautiful, warm and cloudless day on the Tennessee River. Fishing was great. Two friend leave the ramp for a friendly bass club tournament and head out in a bass boat powered by a 150 HP engine. They did not come back. A combination of things added up to disaster. The driver was unfamiliar with handling a high-powered boat. Neither person could swim, yet neither was apparently wearing their life jacket. A functional kill switch was installed on the boat, but was not in use by the driver. We think the driver misjudged the wake from a large passing cruiser and tried to veer away from it at the last minute. The boat went up on its side and both men were tossed out over the passenger side. The boat continued to run in a circle and decapitated one person. The other drowned.
Two boats were leaving a fishing site at the same time. They were close together, as they had been talking and exchanging fishing information. As they gave the boats power, the boat on the left suddenly turned into the boat on the right, crossing the gunnel and killing the passenger. The driver of the boat that caused the crash said he lost control when the boat pulled strongly to the right as he was powering out of his hole shot. The reason: he had only one hand on the steering wheel because his other hand was required to be on the throttle and shift lever.
I see a man in a small boat with a 7 HP motor. The motor is on fire. He is frantically trying to wrap a wet shirt around it to put out the flames. Somehow, it worked and the fire died. We paddled to shore. The man was my Dad.
I stop at a fishing location and suddenly smell smoke and that acid scent of an electrical short. Looking back, I see white smoke billowing from the cowling of the motor. And, I KNOW there are 20 gallons of fuel in a tank just in front of it. Two things saved that day: 1) a quick-disconnect switch on the boat's main power battery, and; 2) a quickly accessible and functional fire extinguisher.
A big runabout boat passes by at planing speed. Sitting right up on the bow with her legs dangling off is a 10 year old little girl. She is laughing and shaking her head from side to side, as the wind whips her long blond hair and the spray cools her skin. Suddenly, the boat hits a submerged object and momentarily jolts sharply. The little girls flies forward into the water. The boat continues forward are kills her.
Life jackets, fire extinguishers and other safety gear are required by law in most areas. In some cases it depends on the size of the boat, as though people in small boats are not prone to die. Don't think that because the law doesn't make you carry safety devices in your boat, you don't need them. A $10 life jacket is absolutely priceless when it is needed.
On my boat I have a positive kill switch that will stop the motor if I move, or am thrown, away from the driver's position. I have a foot pedal throttle control, just like the accelerator in a car. I also have a motor trim button on the side of my steering wheel that I can activate with my hand still on the wheel. With those latter two items, I get to keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times. I am of the opinion that they should be mandatory by law on every applicable boat. Even on a tiller-steering small motor, a kill switch is an absolute 'must'.
The key to boat safety is common sense. Sometimes we get to caught up in the excitement of our fishing and forget to exercise that gift that Mother Nature gave us. But, there are some simple things to do ahead of the fishing trip that might just be the difference between getting back home with a livewell of fish, or not.
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