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Ode to the Fisherman

by Wayne Spivak, National Press Corps, United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

Ode to the Fisherman

Lo, the fisherman,

Mighty are his preparations.

He riseth early and goes forth,

Full of great expectations.

He returneth late,

Smelling of strong drink,

And the truth is not in him.

 - Anonymous

Oh, if the third line of the poem were only accurate, our Ode to the Fisherman would ring with truth and safety.

But, our mighty fishing-person, especially those who fish and boat, usually don't prepare well enough. In 2003, the Coast Guard lists fishing as the activity with the second highest accident rate. In 2003, 543 people who were fishing on boats were in accidents, and unfortunately 187 died.

Of all the groups listed, those who were fishing were the highest group of deaths in this particular statistic. Think about it, 34% of those fishing, who were also boating, died due to the accidents they were involved with.

The most dangerous activity according to the Coast Guard statistics is Waterskiing/Tubing. 711 people were involved in accidents, but only 19 died, in 2003. That's a mere 2.4%.

So who are those boaters who also fish?

Let's examine those 2003 statistics and piece together the demographic. Once we paint the picture, I think you find yourself a part of some of the other high-risk groups, as outlined in the 2003 Boating Statistics, COMDTPUB P16754.17 (available at Boating_Statistics_2003.pdf. Once you know that you are a member of a high-risk group, you can then determine if a change in your behavior is warranted.

Now the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary ARE NOT proposing you stop fishing! On the contrary, fishing is one of the great American pastimes. What we in the Coast Guard and Auxiliary want you to do is boat safely, whether you are fishing, waterskiing or tubing, or just plain cruising!

So, what is the profile you ask? If you are between ages of 36 and 55, and have between 100 and 500 hours of experience, you fit the profile. Moreover, if you also go boating alone to fish, and have never taken a safe boating course, the likelihood of your being involved in a fishing related fatality are greater.

Last but least, if you don't wear your life jacket, and you fit all the other criteria mentioned, you'll have an increased risk of drowning; or so say the statistics.

Why me?

Let's examine some of these characteristics and typical beliefs/attitudes of fishermen, and see why this makes them a prime candidate for an accident or fatality.

Thirty-six to fifty-five year olds have both the means and the time to purchase a boat and go fishing. They're active, confident and looking to relax. They probably don't consider themselves a "boater," in that a boat is simply a means of getting close to where the fish are. And since they're not really a boater, they often don't carry all the legally required equipment. (See https://www.boatsafe.com/us-coast-guard-minimum-requirements-recreational-boats for a listing of legally required and recommended equipment for your boat).

By this time in their life, they've probably been boating for a while, so they're also confident in their boating skills...perhaps too confident, albeit complacent. This group sometimes tends to ignore the obvious, like signs of deteriorating weather, or knowing the boating rules of the road, because they know them so well; or at least think they know them so well.

They boat alone because they want peace and quiet, and to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. They truly enjoy the tranquility that only comes as they match wits with the fish. They prefer to have no other person on the boat to bother them, or disturb that tranquility; however, the flipside of that is they also have no other set of eyes to view the activities (and potential dangers) occurring around them.

They know how to boat, so they don't think see the need to bother taking a boating safety course. They know everything you need to know; hey they've been boating a long time, and after all, they believe, experience is the best teacher. The need to know what to do in an emergency isn't important to them, because they think when they're fishing on a river, lake or bay, "nothing bad can happen – I can see the shoreline" and "only bad things happen on the open ocean."

And they might think wearing your PFD is unnecessary, especially since they know how to swim, and besides, it's too hot, and gets in the way when they cast.

Well, do any of these "excuses" sound like someone you know? For each one that does sound familiar, the chances of getting into an accident or becoming a fatality just increased. And, if someone you care about exhibits all five of these characteristics, the odds are great that they will become a statistic.

What can boaters who fish do?

Well, that's pretty simple, quick, and easy.

1. Don't go boating alone.

2. Take a safe boating course.

3. Always wear your PFD.

4. Don't drink and boat.

Let's take a more detailed look at each of these quick fixes.

1. Don't go boating alone: While you don't need to go boating with a dozen friends, the buddy system works well, especially when you boat or swim (remember learning that in summer camp or the scouts?).

The COLREGS (The International Rules that were formalized in the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 as well as the Inland Rules) or Navigation Rules as they are known, clearly stipulate in Rule 5 that:

"Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision."

It is far easier to maintain a proper lookout with a buddy, then to do it all alone. This is especially important when you are not underway, and are either drifting or anchored, and have your head (and eyes) looking at something inside the boat (like baiting your hook).

2. Take a safe boating course: Here's another snippet from the 2003 Coast Guard Boating Statistics. Of the 364 fatalities (there were a total of 703 fatalities in 2003) where a determination could be made if the victim had ever taken a safe boating course, here are the results:

Course Provider Deaths

  • U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons
  • American Red Cross  - 17
  • State - 27
  • Other - 39
  • No boating course - 281

What are these statistics saying?

Simply put, those who took safe boating courses had the least fatalities. A safe boating course can save your life.

3. Always wear your life jacket (PFD): I will repeat for those who had difficulty with the last sentence. Always wear your PFD – ALWAYS!

Today, given the wide choices in PFD's, there is no excuse for not wearing one. Don't like the bulk of the old "horseshoe" Type II PFD? Wear a Type III vest, or purchase the Type V hybrid inflatable. There are enough different types of PFDs to fit your comfort level, as well as your pocket book. 

PFD wear minimizes the odds of drowning, in the event you are thrown into the water.

"Approximately seventy percent of all fatal boating accident victims drowned (481 out of 703). Eighty-six percent of the victims who drowned were not wearing their personal flotation device (PFD or lifejacket). Overall, fatal accident data show approximately 416 lives could have been saved last year if boaters had worn their lifejackets (Page 7 – 2003 Boating Statistics)."

4.  Don't drink and boat: Alcohol and boating don't mix. As much as 50 percent of all boating accidents and fatalities involve the use of alcohol. Alcohol also increases the likelihood of capsizing, falling overboard, and hastens the onset of hypothermia in the event you do end up in the water. In short – don't drink and boat!

In conclusion

Boating, fishing; fishing while boating; boating and fishing; whatever you want to call it, and anyway you combine these two great sports, the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary want you to be safe.

All it takes is a little extra preparation and you can enjoy your sport for years and years and never become a statistic.

For more information about safe boating courses, why not contact the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary at www.cgaux.org or call 1-877-875-6296.

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