Not looking for trouble

It was during the early hours of a mid-fall day in a Pacific Northwest port that the engineer of a 31-foot, 8-ton wooden boat started the boat’s main and tested its electronic navigation system. Later, the skipper and deckhand came aboard and by 7:30 the boat was steaming out of port to fetch a net of salmon.

By mid-afternoon the crew had yet to catch any fish. The skipper decided they would move up the coast, continuing to fish, and then drift overnight and return to port sometime the next day. He set a northerly course at a speed of 5 knots and deployed the boat’s stabilizers. By this time, the seas had become relatively calm with no swells.Around 4:30 p.m., the boat’s engine began to surge, and the skipper and engineer surmised the cause was the slipping of the reduction gear. The skipper reduced speed, decided to change plans, and headed for the nearest port.

Around 7:45 p.m., with the skipper and the deckhand in the wheelhouse, the boat made its approach toward the bar entrance. The engineer, who was aft stowing gear, saw that the boat’s track line on the radar showed it headed for the jetty on the northern side of the entrance to the channel. The boat was a little more than a mile SSE of the entrance, visibility was good, and the channel markers were in plain sight. The engineer assumed the skipper would adjust the boat’s course.

As the minutes ticked by, the engineer continued his work aft, energized the deck lights, and stood by for the order to bring in the stabilizers. As he was waiting, the starboard side stabilizer and outrigger chains suddenly began to bounce. The engineer took a pull on the chain and felt the stabilizer dragging on the bottom. Realizing that the boat was in shallow water, he turned to yell a warning to the skipper. When he did so, he saw rocks off the starboard bow of the boat. The boat struck the jetty moments later, listed to port and started to flood.

The force of grounding catapulted the engineer into the aft side of the wheelhouse and then over the side into the water. He was momentarily entangled in the boat’s rigging and lines, but managed to work himself free. He was able to clamber up onto the jetty. 

The skipper was able to exit the wheelhouse and get himself up on top of it. He saw the deckhand in the water clutching a life preserver. The skipper then abandoned the boat via the bow and slid down onto the jetty.

The normal tide and wave action worked the boat against the rocks, and the boat soon broke apart. The skipper was unable to make a mayday call prior to abandoning the boat. It was only after the boat broke apart and the EPIRB was washed into the water that the Coast Guard was alerted automatically.

The Coast Guard launched several small boats. After a brief search of the entrance channel, one of the small boats located a debris field and found the 406 EPIRB with the name of the fishing boat on it. A rescue helicopter was launched, deployed to the area, and eventually found the two men huddled together near the end of the jetty.

The skipper and engineer were treated for injuries that included mild hypothermia, contusions, lacerations and abrasions. The deckhand was found but could not be resuscitated. 

Lessons learned

Interviews conducted after the incident revealed that the skipper thought he was hugging the red side of the channel and that the sea state on the bar was calm. The engineer also said the sea state on the bar was what he would characterize as being normally calm. 

In the end, the grounding appears to have been caused by inattention of the skipper. Taken together, the boat’s unchecked course, proximity of the boat to the jetty, no sign of reduction in speed prior to impact, and the area weather and sea conditions suggest that the skipper lost situational awareness and failed to take action to avoid the grounding.

A competent and alert watch-keeper, who keeps a proper all-around lookout at all times, is essential for the safety of the crew and the boat. 

If you’re not feeling fully confident that you’re ready to assume the watch in the wheelhouse, for whatever reason, let the skipper know. 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.

NF Feb17 CVR

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