National Fisherman

Read the bar code

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

The skipper of a 45-foot Dungeness boat out of Tillamook, Ore., checked the Coast Guard's "first light" bar report one November morning. Conditions were poor and bar crossings restricted. The skipper knew he'd have to constantly monitor the conditions, but decided to head out as planned.

The 45-footer and a larger crab boat left at the same time. The skipper of the smaller boat let the larger lead so he could better assess the conditions.

As the larger boat neared the inlet's mouth, the skipper and crew of the smaller boat could see conditions were worse than they expected. Waves from the southwest reached 15 to 16 feet.

The larger crabber cautiously navigated out of the inlet on a southwesterly course as a Coast Guard 47-foot motor lifeboat stood watch nearby. The skipper of the smaller boat took a more northern approach, so he could maneuver to port and seek the refuge of the jetties if necessary.

Swell after swell battered the crabber. Realizing he had drifted into the surf-zone, the skipper decided to turn around. Just then a plunging breaker broke over the bow, unhousing the anchor and washing several pots overboard.

The crew members scrambled to resecure the gear. The seas were now running abaft the beam. A 15-foot breaker swept over the stern, causing the boat to broach on its portside. It washed the two crew members overboard and knocked the skipper from the helm into the fo'c'sle.

The Coast Guard boat's crew attempted to recover both crew members but found only one in the rough seas.

Another 12- to 14-foot breaker picked up the battered crabber and rolled it up onto the rock jetty. The vessel's skipper, still aboard, was able to crawl out and onto the safety of the jetties.

Rescue personnel transported the skipper to a hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia, minor cuts and abrasions, and released. The recovered crewman couldn't be revived. The body of the other crewman was recovered several days later. The boat was a total loss.

Lessons learned


The Coast Guard offers bar-crossing guidelines.

Check the Coast Guard's bar report before leaving or entering port. Stability is key when taking on the heavy wave action in a bar crossing. Load your vessel properly, and don't overload it.

When running in, keep the boat square before the seas and on the back of the swell. Ride the swell, and stay clear of the following waves. Don't let the waves catch your vessel on its beam.

When crossing a rough bar, make sure everyone onboard is wearing a properly fitted personal flotation device. None of the fishermen in this incident were wearing PFDs. Fish safe!

This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.

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