Timely rescue marks Boat Smart's Twenty-Third Season

This photo shot from a Coast Guard rescue boat was taken moments before a 28-foot powerboat sank in 350 feet of water, Lake Michigan.  Five people were rescued in addition to two coasties who ended up in 46-degree water after attempting to dewater the doomed craft.  Photo: Coast Guardsman Michael Williams, Sta. Ludington

Posted May 27, 2008 What a great way to launch the Boat Smart column’s 23rd season with a story of a timely lifesaving rescue. Now the story.

Friday, May16, 2008, Station Ludington, Lake Michigan. Coast Guard . Station Ludington received a call on the International Distress Frequency, VHFFM Channel 16, at 5:25 p.m. The captain of a 28-foot powerboat reported he had lost his starboard engine and was proceeding towards Ludington on his port engine. He provided his GPS position and requested that the Coast Guard monitor his progress. Soon after his initial call the captain reported that his port engine had failed and that the boat was now adrift and taking on water with five people aboard.

Coast Guard Station Ludington launched a 30-foot rescue boat and within 17 minutes reached the disabled craft 7.8 miles due west of Ludington Harbor. “The boat was listing to port,” said Coast Guard coxswain, Tim Evans. The Coast Guard crew removed a 15-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl, their mother and father and the captain. All were wearing life jackets.

Two Coasties then boarded the boat with a dewatering pump. “When they lifted the engine hatches water was at the deck, “ said Evans. A series of six-foot swells rolled over the stern driving the stern down and bow up. The boat sank, with the pump, leaving the two crewmen floundering in the 46-degree water.

“We pulled the crewmen aboard. It’s a good thing they were wearing dry suits,” said Evans.

The 410 foot long car ferry S.S. Badger transiting from Manitowoc, Wisconsin to Ludington also picked up the distress call over Channel 16. “My second mate on watch, Allan Chrenka, intercepted the call and at the time the distress vessel was about six miles off our bow,” said Captain Dean Hobbs. Captain Hobbs notified his company officials of the situation and requested permission to assist the distressed vessel if necessary.

Authorization was granted. Captain Hobbs placed the engine room on standby and directed his deck crew to make ready their rescue boat. As it was the Coast Guard rescue boat reached the vessel moments before the Badger arrived on scene. The Badger continued on to Ludington Harbor

Boat Smart Brief

What a joy it is to pass along smart boating behavior that resulted in the timely rescue of five people. I love writing these stories.

Much of the success of this rescue is due to Bob Boyd, captain of the ill-fated 28-foot boat. Let’s review some key factors that led to a successful rescue.

Float Plan. Mr. Boyd and friends come over on the car ferry Badger to Manitowoc, Wisconsin to pick up his 28-foot Carver from winter storage. His plan was to follow the Badger on the 60-mile track across Lake Michigan to Ludington. Earlier while aboard Badger he had advised Badger officials of his intentions. Although the Badger was not responsible for tracking his voyage at least somebody other that the captain was aware of his voyage and his expected time of arrival in Ludington.

It can’t be stressed enough that boaters inform family or friends of why, where, and when the boating will take place, the boat’s description and name, and whether it carries a marine radio or cell phone and the number. Should an emergency develop, that information will allow searchers to execute a timely rescue.

Boat Checks. Before departing Manitowoc, Mr. Boyd made sure all appropriate safety equipment was aboard especially life jackets; electronics including the radio were properly functioning along with bilge pumps and navigation lights. While departing Manitowoc harbor he had opened the deck engine hatches to make sure he was not taking on water. A prudent move especially after a long winter storage.

Immediate Notification. When Mr. Boyd, lost his starboard engine, he immediately called the Coast Guard on VHFFM Channel 16 and advised them of the causality and his position. The Badger also picked up the distress call. I urge boaters to call immediately should they have concerns about the boat, health issues of people aboard, or weather. Mr. Boyd had no idea soon after making the initial call the other engine would die nor that the boat was taking on water. When he placed the second call the Coast Guard and the Badger knew his position and were ready to respond. Having a marineradio is a huge advantage because other vessels can hear the distress call.

Had Mr. Boyd not lost the second engine the Coast Guard would have monitored his passage until he was safely moored. Let me stress again immediately call the Coast Guard should trouble arise. It’s a win, win for all.

Life Jackets. Not only were there enough life jackets aboard for the crew, Mr. Boyd, after the second engine failed, directed all aboard to don life jackets. At the first hint of trouble with the boat or weather, don life jackets. Recreational boats can quickly sink as illustrated in this case.

Kudos. I salute coasties Tim Evans, Mike Smith and Michael Williams who manned the rescue boat, and Captain Hobbs and his crew.

Mishap Cause. The boat sank in 350 feet of water so the exact cause will never be known. Mr. Boyd asked me what I would have done differently. I advised I would’ve followed Coast Guard standard operating procedures and made engine checks every hour. Although he did open the engine deck hatches when he initially got underway, thereafter with two to fourfoot seas and with an inexperienced crew, we agreed that engine checks were no longer an option.

Mr. Boyd’s situational awareness and timely action resulted in the quick rescue of five people. Boat Smart, follow his lead, take command

Tom Rau is a retired 27-year Coast Guard veteran, boating safety columnist, and author of Boat Smart Chronicles, Lake Michigan Devours Its Wounded. His book is a 20-year journal of recreational boating mishaps with valuable lessons learned. It, along with recent rescue stories, can be viewed at:  www.boatsmart.net.