Night allision


From U.S. Coast Guard reports

The skipper of a 43-foot wooden longliner set off from a small harbor in the Florida Keys on an October day, along with three crewmen, headed out for grouper. 

That evening, one of the crewmen was in the galley preparing dinner. At 8 p.m., there was loud bang from up forward, and the longliner came to a sudden stop. The skipper pulled the throttle back to neutral and looked out of the wheelhouse, but couldn’t see a thing. The crewman ran forward, and as he got to the bow he saw a large, unlit tower. 

The skipper saw the hull was breached by a 6-foot-long and 3-foot-high hole and was taking on water. He went back to the wheelhouse and made a mayday call. He went below, started the four dewatering pumps and assigned two of the crew to bail with 5-gallon buckets.

Convinced he had bought some time, the skipper and the remaining crewman worked to fashion a patch using a tarp, several pieces of shoring and nails. While the flooding hadn’t stopped, it was more manageable, so the skipper decided to try to get back to port. They got underway at 1 to 1.5 knots, making slow progress for about an hour, with the crew managing to stay ahead of the flooding. But the makeshift repair started to give way.

The Coast Guard had deployed a patrol aircraft and diverted a 110-foot patrol boat to assist. The aircraft arrived at 9 p.m., right about the time the temporary repairs started to fail. Its crew dropped three portable pumps. By 10 p.m. the patrol boat and a shrimp trawler, who had heard the mayday, were standing by. 

The skipper and crew continued the fight. Around 5:45 a.m., the skipper discussed a possible tow with the patrol boat, but the damage to the bow was too extensive. The skipper requested he and his crew be brought to the patrol boat.

Near first light, the longliner sank in 80 feet of water and was not salvaged. None of the crew sustained injuries. 

Lessons learned

The tower the longliner hit was not lit nor sounding an alert, but it was noted on a NOAA chart. The skipper was using an electronic chart, which only had the word “tower” on it and did not have the exact position and symbol for the tower. The skipper also had the e-chart set on the 1NM, scale which made it difficult to pinpoint the tower’s position.

The helm station and galley were located in one continuous space. At the time of the allision, the lights in the galley were on. This may have created a background glare on the wheelhouse windows and impaired the skipper’s night vision. The vessel was not equipped with radar. The skipper did not post any watch to help keep a lookout.

In restricted visibility, slow to a safe speed and post a lookout. Give yourself at least 15 minutes before assuming a night watch to adjust to the dark.

Your situation at sea can change in a matter of minutes. Seeing navigational hazards at night takes practice, and practice makes it easier to 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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