Lessons Learned

A lot of people unconsciously turn off their common sense switch when they get on a boat and feel the anticipation of a great day of fishing. The exhilaration of a hot bite can cloud an understanding of your limits.

Well documented is the recent tragedy which took place off Tampa Bay. Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, free agent Corey Smith and William Bleakley were lost at sea. Nick Schuyler was the only survivor and "tragic" is the key word, because three lives and tremendous suffering could have been avoided if the anglers had been more respectful of the very dangerous waters they embarked on.

Some 50 miles offshore Tampa Bay, Florida when their boat capsized, they were presumably heading to the Middle Grounds, a series of extremely productive limestone ledges. Although it's a volatile and huge piece of water, Tampa Bay area anglers make this run in small boats all the time. I wonder how many folks venture out there in not enough boat and with all the necessary safety gear in their ditch bag, including an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).

ER doctors doubt that Schuyler, a personal trainer, could have survived the 46-hour ordeal in 63-degree water if he was in anything less superb shape. He also had the sense to stay with the boat. But if Schuyler had invested in an EPIRB, which immediately sends a distress signal to the Coast Guard, they doubtless would have been rescued promptly.

Much ado has been made about the ill-fated foursome's decision to make a long run without an EPIRB, and apparently the devices are flying off the shelves. Lives will be saved because of their mistake. But, technology is no replacement for sense. Not enough has been said about knowing the limitations of your vessel, understanding the waters and studying the weather forecast.

--Waters such as the Great Lakes, Gulf Stream and Eastern Gulf of Mexico experience some of the most rapid weather changes on the planet, especially during the late winter. Talk to more experienced captains about the waters. Get them to tell you their heavy experiences and find out what the pitfalls are beforehand.

--Pick the right "horse for the course." What 21-foot boat belongs 50 miles offshore, with four very large citizens in it, in the volatile weather month of March?

--Study the forecast thoroughly, and keep checking the VHS radio for weather reports. You may also want to invest in technology that sends weather reports straight to your cell phone or onboard GPS system.

--Always bring along an "Abandon Ship" or ditch bag. Do you have one on your boat? If you do, we'd love to know what equipment you carry with you.