Having anchored for the day at the Haulover Inlet sandbar in North Miami, Florida, aboard our 26 Sea Ray, it was time to go. The crew included my wife and small child, and my brother-in-law, sister-in-law and their small child. My brother-in-law went to the bow to operate the windlass and point at the anchor so I could steer the boat and avoid stressing the windlass too much.
Without warning, the anchor came up. In the strong current, my boat immediately started drifting starboard, straight at a boat anchored 15 feet away. I instinctively put the engine in reverse but got no power. The drive was still trimmed up all the way due to the shallow water. Then it happened: I panicked, shifted the engine into forward gear, and slammed the bow into the port side of the other boat.
The other family’s kid was playing in the water and fortunately swam out of the way in time.
We reanchored to exchange insurance information, but the other captain would not communicate with us. So, my brother-in-law decided to grab a float and, against my instructions (I probably did not have much respect from my crew by then), he jumped in the water to try to reach the other boat and come to terms. Despite it being only waist-deep, he was swept away by the current in an instant. I did not have a Type IV throwable personal flotation device aboard.
The captain of the other boat decided to help—thank God—and went to rescue my brother-in-law. By then, he was 100 yards away and inside the inlet itself. Fortunately, we managed to get everyone back in our boats in just a few minutes, and no one was injured.
I learned the importance of many things that day. The list of mistakes includes: a lack of communication (the anchor up and captain not ready, my brother-in-law jumping in the water against my warning), a panicked captain in high current, no throwable life jacket, no radio to call for a man-overboard emergency, and a technical issue with the windlass.
In the wake of this event, I took a boating course, bought a throwable life ring, quickly installed a radio, and established a rigid procedure with my crew for handling the anchor to ensure we are ready for wind, current, etc. I’m a more confident captain now. Fortunately, the Haulover Inlet incident didn’t cost anyone’s life.
The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.