June 2007

Ode To The Fisherman

By Tom Nunes

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.  The Coast Guard lists fishing as the activity with the second highest accident rate. 

Of all the groups listed, those who were fishing were the highest group of deaths.  Think about it: In an average year about 34 percent of those fishing, who were also boating, and who were in accidents died due to the accidents.  The most dangerous activity, according to Coast Guard statistics, is water skiing/tubing. 

So, Who Are Those Boaters Who Also Fish?

Let’s examine the statistics and piece together the demographic.  Once we paint the picture, you might find yourself part of some other high-risk groups, as well. Once you know that you are a member of a high-risk group, you can then determine if a change in behavior might be in order.

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, water skiing 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 is 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 prime candidates for an accident or fatality. 

  • Thirty-six to fifty-five-year-olds often 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 “boaters,” 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. 
  • By this time in their lives, 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 one needs 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 a life jacket 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 who 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 lifejacket.
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 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, than to do it all alone.  This is especially important when you are not underway, and 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 the result of a survey concerning deaths on the water and boating safety courses:

Deaths In Relation To Course Providers (based on Coast Guard 2003 data)

17 deaths: after courses provided by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons, the American Red Cross
27 deaths: after courses from the state
39 deaths: after courses from other providers
281 deaths: among those who had taken no boating course
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 I will repeat for those who had difficulty with the last sentence.  Always wear your life jacket – always!

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

Life jacket wear minimizes the odds of drowning, in the event you are thrown into the water.  About 90 percent of all boating-related deaths were due to drowning and about 90 percent of those people knew how to swim!

4.  Don’t drink and boat:  Alcohol and boating don’t mix.  As many 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.

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed volunteer component of Team Coast Guard. It was founded in 1939 by an Act of Congress as the US Coast Guard Reserves and re-designated the Auxiliary in 1941. The 31,000 volunteer members (men and women) donate thousands of hours in support of Coast Guard missions.