To cross or not to cross

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

The mate of a 58-foot West Coast Dungeness crabber was at the wheel one late-January evening. The crew was heading in after a four-day trip to a port where the skipper had arranged to off-load their 5,000-plus pounds of crab.

At about 9 p.m., the mate saw the entrance buoy to the channel and notified the skipper, who took over the helm for the bar crossing into the inner harbor.

At approximately 9:20, as the crabber made its turn to starboard toward the bar from the south, at a speed of 6 knots, the tide was on the ebb. Winds were out of the north at 15 knots and waves were 8 to 10 feet with 12-foot breakers.

The mate, on the portside of the wheelhouse, couldn’t see the lights he was expecting and told the skipper he thought the boat might be out of position. The mate started to think the bar might be closed and urged the skipper to call the Coast Guard to get a bar report.

A partial moon made for good visibility, the radar picture was clear, and the skipper believed he was in the exact position he should be in, centered between the north and south jetties.

Within seconds a large wave struck the crabber on the port quarter and spun the boat to port, parallel to the waves. The skipper decided to keep the boat turning to port in an attempt to head back out to sea and reached for the radio to make a mayday call.

He never got a chance to make the radio call. They were hit again by even larger wave. The boat rode up on the crest of the wave, rolled to starboard and capsized. Then, according to accounts from the skipper and mate, it rolled several times and came to rest, right side up, on the end of the south jetty.

It was around 9:30 p.m. when the local Coast Guard station received a call from a person on a nearby beach who had seen the boat’s light go out and thought it could have been in distress.

The nearby Coast Guard sector got an EPIRB hit on 406 MHz from a fishing boat within the vicinity of the bar. A ready helicopter launched after a call to the local air station.

Twenty minutes later the first 47-foot motor lifeboat arrived and confirmed they saw a person in the wheelhouse but couldn’t establish radio communications. The crabber continued to get battered by the waves, its mast was snapped off, and it was partially submerged.

The rescue helicopter arrived on scene and dropped a portable radio down to the stricken vessel. The skipper of the crabber indicated that he and two other members of his crew had sustained injuries, and that a fourth member of the crew appeared to be severely injured.

A rescue swimmer began evacuating the crew. The severely injured man was hoisted first and transported to a hospital. The skipper and two crewmen were then transferred to a second ambulance and also to the hospital.

The injuries to the crew ranged from cuts, abrasions and contusions to a severe head injury. The next morning the severely injured crewman succumbed to complications induced from blunt force trauma. The skipper and other two crewmen were treated and released. There was no sign of the boat the next morning with exception of some debris. The vessel was not recovered.

Lessons learned

The skipper had crossed this particular bar only once before, two months earlier. The last bar report the skipper listened to was at 1 p.m. on the day of the incident. The bar had since been closed to all recreational and uninspected passenger vessels. According to the crew, the skipper had only slept 2.5 hours in 2.5 days.

Crossing a bar, even in relatively benign conditions and during daylight hours, should be taken seriously. You should know the times of the tide and have an up-to-date weather forecast regarding wind and visibility. If you are unfamiliar with a bar, obtain advice from the local harbor authorities and tune into Coast Guard radio broadcasts to learn of any vessel restrictions that may be imposed on the regulated area. Take care of loose items on deck and be prepared to delay crossing or seek assistance.

Fatigue causes impaired judgment and results in mistakes and accidents. If you know you are operating with little sleep, slow down and try to make deliberate, well-thought-out decisions.

Don’t be overconfident or careless, and 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.

» Read more Consequences here.15oct NF Cover 230pxWide

» Read more articles in our OCTOBER issue.

Have you listened to this article via the audio player?

If so, send us your feedback around what we can do to improve this feature or further develop it. If not, check it out and let us know what you think via email or on social media.

A collection of stories from guest authors.

Join the Conversation