Consequences

A silent killer

A married couple was a few days into a weeklong trip on their 50-foot steel shrimper. They were fishing inside one of the many protected sounds just off the Gulf Coast.


The couple almost always fished together. They were set in their ways and familiar with other fishing vessels in the area.

For the most part, they did their trawling during daylight hours. Then, after dusk, their normal routine was to haul in the nets, secure the outriggers in the down position, secure the main engine, start a generator and energize the deck lighting. 

During these summer months, they would also turn on the air conditioning, close the cabin and wheelhouse doors to keep out the heat and humidity, and call it a day. They did not usually anchor, but instead drifted while they cooked their dinner on a portable propane stove and then rested for the night. 

The husband normally used the portable generator located on the top of the cabin to power the air conditioning and the deck lighting. 

However, he could not get that generator to run. So he ran two extension cords, one for the air conditioning unit and the other for the deck lighting, to the spare generator in the engine room. With the air conditioning and the deck lighting powered up, the couple followed routine and retired for the evening.

Fast-forward approximately 48 hours.

The skipper of another fishing boat, who frequented the local fishing grounds and was well acquainted with the couple’s operation, had noticed the shrimper drifting nearby. He had not heard the couple talking on the radio since he saw them hauling in their nets the night before last. It was around 8 p.m. when he maneuvered his boat alongside, boarded the shrimper, and found the couple unconscious. 

The skipper immediately notified the Coast Guard. 

The closest station launched a 25-foot response boat. When they arrived, there was a strong smell of propane gas, and they called for backup.

Members of the Coast Guard’s strike team and an investigator from the local Marine Safety Unit entered the vessel in protective gear, which includes self-contained breathing apparatus, and determined the shrimper’s atmosphere was safe for entry. 

They decided to tow the boat to the nearest harbor, which was approximately 8 miles away, to facilitate a thorough investigation and inspection. 

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.


NF Jul17 CVR

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About the author

Doug Stewart
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