The incident

The skipper of a 5m open boat launched from the beach to navigate to his pots. The weather was good with a light breeze and good visibility. The vessel had an outboard motor propel. Also, it was equipped with a second, small engine that drove a hydraulic pot hauler, making able for the ship master to recover his pots more easily.

While the skipper pulled with great force one of his pots it came fast on a seabed obstruction. Usually, if the pot hauler was heavily loaded, the engine would have given out. However, under these circumstances the engine continued howling and the skipper could not release the rope from the pot hauler. Because of that, the vessel's gunwale was immersed underwater.

The skipper immediately jumped and swam the vessel's stern. After many tries, he managed to climb on the hull that was previously upturned using the the outboard motor as a step. After getting on the hull, he used his phone to call a friend and tried to get a message through. After recognising the phone number and keeping in mind where the skipper was, the friend raised the alarm and local lifeboats came to help.

The skipper and his boat were recovered and taken ashore, where an ambulance approached the skipper who, apart from ingesting some sea water, was uninjured.

Lessons learned 

  • Automatic cut-offs and other such devices provide a measure of safety, which over time can be taken for granted. Maintenance and regular testing of such devices will ensure that they function when needed. Do not suppose that automatic cut-offs will always be efficient.
  • The skipper carried a lifejacket on his boat, but he chose not to wear it as he found it awkward to work when wearing it. The skipper was lucky that he entered the water in a conscious condition and could swim to the back of his boat. A PFD or lifejacket is useless unless worn. While some are bulky and inconvenient, plenty of models are designed for fishermen and do not hinder the wearer. Capsize normally occurs rapidly; expecting to have time to don a lifejacket or PFD is not practical
  • It is fortunate that the skipper was carrying a waterproof mobile phone. However, although he managed to send a message to his friend, reception was poor. The skipper had a flare pack and VHF radio in a box on his boat, but after it capsized he could not reach them. If fishing alone, a personal locator beacon is a very effective way of raising the alarm. As a minimum, carrying a portable waterproof VHF radio will enable the coastguard to be alerted. A mobile phone should be carried only as a backup.
  • The skipper was also very lucky that his boat had built-in buoyancy to ensure that it remained afloat. An open boat with no internal buoyancy will sink rapidly after capsizing. If your open boat doesn’t have sufficient buoyancy to stay afloat when swamped, consider adding buoyancy to ensure your boat can act as your liferaft during an emergency.