Outboard blitz-out

The skipper and deckhand of a 38-foot gillnetter were heading back into port. The skipper was at the wheel and had pushed the boat up to 15 knots. The deckhand was preparing for delivery....

A little farther inshore, two men in an open 21-foot center-console trap boat were fishing for scup. They were operating near the east entrance to the local harbor. When he realized the gillnetter was headed in their direction, the skipper cranked the outboard to move out of the way, but the engine wouldn’t start. 

At approximately 12:25 p.m., the gillnetter’s deckhand felt a shudder. He thought they had run over some lobster gear, but then saw the trap boat about 15 feet off the bow, half-submerged, listing to starboard and down by the stern; there were two men prone on deck. In less than 30 seconds, as the deckhand watched, the trap-boat rolled over.

The skipper on another fishing boat that was also heading into the harbor and was some hundred yards ahead of the gillnetter, was looking aft and saw the collision. That skipper immediately altered course to help and called the local Coast Guard station. The Coast Guard dispatched two small boats in response.

The gillnetter’s deckhand had peeled off his oilers and jumped into the water to look for survivors. He dove under the trap boat and came up in a small air pocket where he found the skipper. The deckhand pulled him to the surface and maneuvered him to the stern of the capsized trap boat. The skipper was having a hard time hanging onto the back of the boat because he had sustained some injuries. He told the deckhand he thought his crewman was also under the boat.

A few minutes later the fishing boat that notified the Coast Guard arrived on scene. The mate of that boat also jumped into the water and assisted in keeping the trap boat’s skipper afloat while the gillnetter’s deckhand dove back underwater to look for the crewman. The deckhand made several attempts, but did not find the other man.

By 12:40 p.m., two Coast Guard small boats were on scene. The trap boat’s skipper was taken to a medical facility. Emergency crews continued the search for the other crewman. Coast Guard assets completed more than 12 searches through the night and the next morning; the search was suspended. 

Three days later, the body of the missing crewman was found washed up on a nearby beach. The skipper of the trap boat was treated for internal injuries associated with blunt force trauma and was released from the hospital two weeks after the incident. A local tug company was given permission to salvage the trap boat; it was towed it into port and taken out of service. 

Lessons learned

The collision took place in broad daylight and with weather conditions that were characterized as “beautiful.” The gillnetter had electronics and navigation equipment on board, but the skipper said that he never saw the trap boat, nor did he or the deckhand recall hearing any sound signals, yells or radio transmissions prior to the collision.

The proximate cause of this collision was the failure of the skipper on the gillnetter to maintain a proper lookout and failure to use all available means (radar) to determine risk of collision. The gillnetter was making 14-15 knots at the time of the collision as it approached an area known for its high concentrations of vessel traffic. Contributing to the casualty was the failure of the operator on the trap boat to sound the danger signal.

A power-driven vessel approaching a vessel engaged in fishing must give way. However, that does not mean the engaged boat doesn’t have to pay attention to what’s around them.

The best defense against any type of collision is to keep a proper lookout at all times by sight and sound. Don’t make the assumption that the other crew will see and avoid you. Be responsible 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. 


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