That’s the question I’ve been asking fellow boaters over the past year. About half reported some real doozies, while the rest reported minor mishaps such as running out of gas in their dingy or losing their winch handle overboard. Let’s face it, accidents happen to the best of us. The key to happy boating is to learn not only from our mistakes, but from the mistakes of others so we don’t repeat them. Plus, it’s a whole lot cheaper!
From the collection of boating incidents reported to me, I chose 10 and ranked them on a scale from Dumb (No’s. 10 – 6) to Dumber (No’s. 5 – 2), with the Dumbest (No. 1) deserving of this year’s top Boating OOPS Award. Usually dumber mishaps are more traumatic, more expensive, and associated with sickening sounds and unmentionable expressions.
No. 10 Anchor away Gary had chartered a nearly new sailboat and was anchoring for the first time. With his wife at the helm, he dropped the hook and fed out the 50 feet of chain; then continued to let out the rope, which was not marked at intervals. Thinking his wife was backing up too quickly, he yelled for her to slow down, which she managed to do, but not until the entire rode, including the bitter end, had gone through Gary’s hands. OOPS! It had not been tied off in the anchor locker. Fortunately, they were able to dock for the night at a nearby marina. The next morning, the charter company retrieved the anchor and, after some warranted apologies, extended their cruise for two days to compensate for this very avoidable mishap.
Helpful hint: Make sure the bitter end of your anchor rode is secured to your boat, and be aware that charter boats, especially new ones, may have unresolved problems.
No. 9 Sssssssss Ben and Ron, with their wives, were on a sailing charter in Florida when they decided to anchor in a narrow waterway. After anchoring, Ron rowed their rubber dingy the short distance to shore to tie off a stern line. While doing so, he accidentally rammed into a sharp branch, which punctured one side of the dingy. Ben wisely shouted: “Untie the line,” which Ron did before frantically rowing back to the boat, half submerged like a wounded duck. After docking at the closest marina in town, they spent the entire next day going from store to store, trying unsuccessfully to purchase a patch kit. After mentioning their plight to a fellow boater, he generously loaned them his kit to make the repair.
Helpful hint: If you have an inflatable dingy, always carry an appropriate patch kit. You never know when you, or a fellow boater, might need it.
No. 8 Twisted Motoring into a secluded bay to spend the night, Chris selected his spot to drop anchor. While revving up in reverse to set the hook, he heard a shrill screeching sound and the engine labouring. After shutting down the engine, he noticed the dingy painter leading directly under the boat, obviously wrapped around the prop shaft. GEEZ! His solution involved multiple dives in frigid water to cut the line and an extra ration of rum to ease the pain.
Helpful hint: As a reminder to shorten your dingy line before anchoring or docking, tie the bitter end to one of your anchoring gloves or fenders.
No. 7 Docking 101 Newbie sailors Dave and Carol were practicing docking their new 34-foot sailboat. Dave made an angled approach while Carol stood on the outside of the pulpit rail, dockline in hand. As the bow reached the dock, Carol suddenly realized that she could injure herself by possibly landing on the tie rail, so she turned around with her back to the dock and stepped off. At that moment, Dave turned parallel to the dock, swinging the bow far enough away that Carol stepped into midair and … SPLASH! Fortunately, she was able to swim to a nearby ladder while Dave tied up the boat.
Admitting to two mistakes — exiting at the bow and walking off backwards — Dave now stops the boat close enough, even if it takes several attempts, so Carol can step safely off facing the dock, either amidship or aft, never from the bow.
No. 6 Not so Merry-Go-Round Jim, a British Columbia kayaker, attempted to paddle through a tidal pass at high tide, which he assumed would be slack water. His assumption nearly proved fatal: a school-bus-size whirlpool dumped him and his gear into the saltchuck. Hanging on to his kayak and paddling furiously with his feet through several revolutions, Jim managed to break free and make it to shore. When he related this story several days later, I explained that high (or low) tide and slack current in tidal passes seldom coincide and can be more than an hour apart. I suggested he consult local Current Tables to determine slack times in tidal passes.
Helpful hint: All boaters in coastal waters should have a book of Tide and Current Tables and know how to read them.
No. 5 Ouch At the beginning of one of my cruise-and-learn courses, I explained to students the importance of always securing the anchor hatch in the open position with the bungy cord provided. Just a few days later Robert was raising the anchor with the electric windless when the wake from a passing yacht caused our boat to roll slightly, just enough to tip the hatch past vertical. Unfortunately, he had his hand on the casing when the hatch slammed down. It was not a pretty sight. After providing first aid, I arranged for him to be transported to the emergency department of a local hospital where he was treated for severe cuts and a broken finger. Later, Robert admitted that he had learned a lesson the hard way, “not exactly what I had in mind when I signed up for a cruise-and-learn.”
Helpful hint: Always secure open hatches when working around them.
No. 4 Cardinal Rules While anchored in a popular British Columbia anchorage, I noticed a large sailing yacht approaching on the east side of a West Cardinal Buoy. Just as I was thinking, “this is going to hurt,” the boat hit the submerged reef and came to rest as a rakish angle. I immediately advised the Coast Guard of the situation and agreed to offer assistance. Motoring over in my dingy, I was relieved that the elderly skipper and his wife were uninjured and their steel hull was not leaking. After helping them kedge off with their spare anchor, I asked the skipper what the marker meant to him: “I thought it marked an isolated rock that I could pass on either side,” which he said he had done on previous occasions (obviously at higher tides). I suggested he become familiar with Cardinal Buoys, which are common in BC coastal waters: they use compass cardinal points to indicate the direction of safe passage around obstructions.
No. 3 Log Boom Rick was returning solo from a Classic Boat Show in his restored 42-foot wooden powerboat. Proceeding on autopilot, he felt the urge to use the head. Scanning ahead for traffic and deciding all was clear, he went below. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, when he heard a loud BOOM. Returning to the helm, he noticed a partly submerged log behind the boat, which he had obviously hit. Fortunately, the hull was intact. Since his starboard engine was running roughly, he shut it down and limped home on one engine. Later, he had the boat hauled and discovered the log had badly damaged his starboard prop, which he replaced at a cost of $600. Rick told me, “It was a very expensive pee.”
Helpful hint: If you have to leave the helm unattended for any reason, stop the boat. You can’t collide with anything when you’re not moving.
No. 2 Shortcut to the Hard Most accidental groundings occur when the skipper is down below and a crewmember decides to take a shortcut. Ken, a novice boater, validated this statistic when he made a beeline to the intended anchorage while the skipper was searching for a chart. CRUNCH! The sailboat’s keel plowed onto a rocky shoal and the boat came to an abrupt stop. Aided by a rising tide and a passing power boater who provided a deliberate wake, the skipper backed off and entered the anchorage through the safe channel. Ken said he had never fully appreciated, until that moment, “how much deep and shallow water look the same.” A subsequent haul out at a local boatyard resulted in a hefty repair bill for fiberglass damage.
Helpful hint: Before leaving the helm, the skipper (or any other helmsperson) should provide course directions to the person taking over, especially when approaching waters that hide hazards.
No. 1 Shaken and Stirred Mary and Janet were good friends who decided to fulfill their lifelong dream of getting involved in boating. They began searching for a powerboat that would take them to popular destinations, initially along the coast of British Columbia and perhaps later to Alaska. They responded to an ad for a 32-foot cabin cruiser, old but well kept. As soon as they stepped aboard, they knew they had to have it. Their offer was accepted by the owner, and after an orientation to the boat’s systems, they motored in the direction of home.
Unfortunately, they hadn’t had the boat inspected, they had no boating knowledge or experience, and they hadn’t checked the weather. Why should they, they reasoned: this was a big solid boat and all they had to do was drive it home, about 30 miles across an open stretch of ocean. An hour out, the weather deteriorated, the sea turned rough, and the engine quit. Although both were so seasick they could hardly talk, they managed to contact the Coast Guard who dispatched a rescue vessel, which towed them to the closest marina.
In hindsight, Mary and Janet admitted their actions were “not too bright,” but considering what might have happened, I awarded them the “Dumbest” Boating OOPS that was reported to me this past year. They have since taken boating courses through a Canadian Power and Sail Squadron and a cruise-and-learn on their own boat, enabling them to follow their dream in a more competent fashion.
So there you have it, this year’s top 10 bad things that happened to otherwise good people while boating. Two things are certain about these mishaps: 1) The person responsible is not likely to make the same mistake again. 2) Somebody else will. By reading about these incidents, we hope that “somebody” won’t be you.
Thanks to those who took time to share their experiences with me, so that others can benefit from your mistakes. If you’ve done something equally dumb or dumber, please email me (CaptnMac@shaw.ca), describing the mishap and how it might have been prevented. You needn’t worry about being identified … names are changed to protect the, ahem, winners. Who knows, you just might qualify for a Boating OOPS Award next year.