Boating safety is top priority
While I seldom if ever fish on Sundays, I was thinking that things could not have gone much better as I tied off to the dock at the River Rat Marina on Adam’s Bayou. We finally got a day with very little wind, we caught trout all day long, and I had the opportunity to share my boat with Wade French, his son, and his grandson.
When you consider everything from the cost of gas to logistics, family outings like this are rare indeed. Based on my own personal observations, it is far easier for Grandma, her daughter, and granddaughter, to plan a day at the Mall!
Wade now lives and works in Tyler, but grew up in Orange and survived the rigors of school life at Stark High School in the early 60’s. We graduated together, but more importantly, shared many afternoons at a much younger age after the bell ended the day at Jones Elementary duping Cooper’s gully crawfish with a short string and a piece of bacon.
His grandson, Christopher is obviously as smitten with fishing as we were at the same age. Wade apparently never forgot that either of us would have killed as youngsters to fish for real fish out of a real boat with a real rod and reel. He introduced his son to fishing at an early age and is now doing the same with the third generation.
By the time the front door closed behind me at the Marina, however, the euphoria of a super day was quickly erased with Clint Caywood’s somber announcement. The affable Texas Game Warden said that a sixteen-foot aluminum boat had capsized Saturday evening and that three more people had died from a boating accident on Sabine.
It was all I could do to turn and look through the glass door at the French family as they laughed and recounted the day’s activities under the shade of the patio cover. That is how it should be, but I could only think about the pain of another family that set out with the same expectations only to experience the worst nightmare of their lives.
Losing any family member or close friend is hard to deal with, but even more so when it is the result of an accident. Every time a tragedy like this occurs and it has occurred far too often this year on Sabine Lake, I re-evaluate every safety issue concerned with my guiding business. Putting people on fish is the lifeblood of the guiding business, but apologizing for a poor bite at the end of the day is easier to live with than waiting on a rescue boat. Safe operation of the boat and making decisions that ensure the safety of all aboard are responsibilities that cannot be taken lightly. This applies to not only charter boat captains, but also any boat operator on any body of water. I see the potential for boating accidents almost everyday that I am on the water and the powerful winds this spring have only magnified the occurrences. Obviously, the number one mistake is over estimating the sea worthiness of a boat followed by overloading.
When you sacrifice freeboard due to the number of people in the boat, you are asking for trouble regardless of the maximum number stenciled on the inspection plate. Warden Caywood was quick to point out that while a quality life jacket is a must item for any boater, your chances of survival are greatly diminished when forced to tread extremely cold water for any length of time. Keep your load light and wear your life jacket!
You also have a responsibility as a passenger to be assured that you have met the necessary safety precautions prior to leaving the dock. Do you know how to start and drive the boat should something happen to the primary driver? I had a friend drown many years ago when he fell out of the boat on Toledo Bend. His girl friend did not have a clue as to how to start their 20 horsepower engine and she drifted out of reach while trying to paddle against the waves.
Once again, cold water and wind were their enemies. Knowing what to do once you are in the water can save lives, but staying out of the water is the main objective of safe boating. Sit down tonight with your youngsters or fishing buddies and discuss these things before your next fishing trip.Make your next outing on the water a safe one before you ever leave the house. Check out your safety equipment and remember…”boats don’t have brakes!”