Sunday 22nd of May saw some less than pleasant conditions hit the Bundaberg coastline – I know because I was out on a charter boat in the area doing some line fishing and it definitely was not ideal conditions! Luckily, I was in a 10.5m cat so the ride certainly wasn’t the worst I’ve experienced.
But some keen spearo’s in Bundaberg on Queensland’s Central Coast weren’t so lucky when the hull of their 17-foot fibreglass boat split on their way back into shore around 10am – 7.5 nautical miles out to sea. The news story highlights the importance of having a registered Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) on board at all times. If it wasn’t for this essential piece of equipment there is no telling how long these four young spearfishers would have been caught out in the rough conditions for, holding onto nothing but their blue eski. Thankfully, their ordeal was over within a couple of hours (no doubt some of the longest of their lives though) and they safely returned to shore thanks to the EPIRB they had on board.Being out on the open ocean is one of life’s most enjoyable experiences, but it can soon turn dangerous and lives can be lost if we don’t adhere to the proper safety requirements. Regulations change depending on where you are, but some of the common requirements include: EPIRB; signalling device (such as a torch); life jackets; V sheet (used to signal other boats that you are in distress); flares (red hand flares and orange smoke flares); fire fighting equipment (fire blanket and fire extinguisher); navigation chart; compass or GPS; anchor; first aid kit; radio equipment; pumping/bailing equipment; manual propulsion (oars); and of course drinking water. As the skipper of your boat it is your responsibility to make sure all the equipment is in good working order and not past the expiry date.
Some of these safety items are just recommended, but as a skipper you should see yourself as responsible for the lives of those you take out and ensure that you are in the best possible position to save you and your crew if the need ever arises. When taking new people on your boat, it is also a good idea to quickly let them know where they can find the safety items. Being the owner of the boat does not necessarily mean you will be the only one who needs to access these items in a hurry either, so take the time as you leave the shore to point out the location of and how to use EPIRB devices, radio equipment and other safety devices.
When doing my boat license course I was told a story of a boat that sunk in rough seas. Luckily, the crew were able to clamber into a safety raft and one crew member had a flare. Without reading the instructions, the crew member let the flare off. The flare was not pointed in the correct direction and it put a hole in their life raft. Eleven lives were lost as a result of his negligence.Don’t assume that everyone on your boat always knows what to do in an emergency, take a couple of minutes to explain to them the basics. You only have to do it once, and it may save all of your lives.
I have also heard a few terrifying stories of spearfishers boats having capsized who have had to make long (and scary) swims into shore because they didn’t abide by the safety requirements, or because they didn’t ‘legally’ need the safety equipment as they had smaller boats. Even if you are in a boat under 5m, think about where you are going and what you are doing and common sense should tell you that you need at least the essential safety devices for your sake and the sake of those you are taking out.
I don’t know the four spearfishers who were caught in the no doubt terrifying experience on Sunday, but I admire the fact that they had planned for the worst and were quick thinking enough to get themselves out of what could have been a tragic ending. They live to spear another day.