By CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 IVAN MCFARLANMarch 24, 2011
Fishing might not seem like a dangerous activity, but plenty can go wrong any time you drop a boat into the water.
It was my first South Carolina Army National Guard fishing tournament, and I was excited. The tournament was held at Lake Murray, a large, manmade reservoir in the heart of South Carolina that covers 78 square miles with nearly 650 miles of shoreline. I couldn't wait to wet my line in one of the premier fishing locations in the South.
My fishing partner and I thought we had planned for everything. He made sure his boat was in good condition and had personal flotation devices for each of us. We both even bought new equipment and stayed up late the night before the tournament getting everything ready. What we both forgot to do was check the local news channels for the weather forecast.
We got to the lake early that Saturday morning and put the boat into the water. We should have known we were going to have a bad day when my partner fell into the water while pushing the boat off the trailer. We launched soon after his unexpected dip and spent the next four or five hours fishing the shoreline and going in and out of quiet coves.
As we crossed over to the other side of the lake, we heard the distant rumble of thunder. The wind also started to pick up and we could see the tops of the trees swinging wildly from side to side. The waves on Lake Murray can be pretty rough when the wind is up. Still, we continued to cross.
About halfway across the lake, the dark skies opened up on us. Almost immediately, waves hit us from both sides as we pushed across the water to get to the other side. Over and over again, as each wave would hit, we were launched upward by the force of the water, only to come crashing down into our seats. Suddenly, a large wave appeared in our path. It was too late to turn to avoid. We took on a lot of water, losing much of our buoyancy. Even smaller waves were now dangerous because they, too, were filling the boat. We had no choice but to keep going.
We decided to try to make it to a small island about 200 yards away. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally reached solid ground. By now, the boat was more than halfway full of water. If we had not reached the island, we surely would have sunk under the weight of the water, our equipment and ourselves.
It took about 30 minutes for the storm to blow over. Before we could empty the boat of water, we had to unload all of the equipment. After flipping the boat over, we put everything back in and began our journey back to the launching area. We didn't even weigh in the fish we'd caught. We just raised the boat onto the trailer and went home. Both of us were just too wet and exhausted to be bothered with the rest of the event.
All of this drama could have been avoided if we had just checked the weather forecast. We learned from our mistake, and we always make sure we check now. Failure to prepare properly can lead to a rough day on the lake.
w/ sidebar below
Know the Weather
NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION
Weather can be both friend and foe. Calm winds and seas make for enjoyable boating, water skiing and fishing. A fresh breeze and a light chop provide an invigorating sailing or windsurfing experience. But the sudden emergence of dark clouds, shifting and gusty winds, torrential downpours and lightning can turn a day's pleasure into a nightmare of distress. Here are some tips on how to keep your pleasure and safety to a maximum.
Several Days in Advance ...
Start listening for the National Weather Service extended five-day outlooks on NOAA Weather Radio, AM/FM radio and TV. The outlooks give general information to help you decide whether to continue making plans.
Before Setting Out ...
Pay close attention to the TV weather forecast and listen to detailed marine weather forecasts on NOAA Weather Radio. Take note of small boat cautionary statements, small craft advisories, or gale or storm warnings in the forecasts. The advisories and warnings alert mariners to higher winds and waves either occurring now or forecast to occur up to 24 hours from now. Advisories and warnings for conditions expected later give mariners time to take action to protect life and property.
After Setting Out ...
Don't touch that dial! Stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio. Changes in the weather often occur out of sight and could be headed your way. Updated warnings and forecasts are aired immediately on NOAA Weather Radio, alerting you to changes that may require action on your part.
Here is some additional information to keep you safe:
Aca,!Ac Watch for signs of approaching storms - dark, threatening clouds that may foretell a squall or thunderstorm; a steady increase in wind; or lightning flashes.
Aca,!Ac Pay attention to the wind. An increase in wind opposite in direction to a strong tidal current may lead to steep waves capable of broaching a boat.
Aca,!Ac Heavy static on your AM radio may be an indication of nearby thunderstorm activity.
Aca,!Ac If a thunderstorm is approaching, head for shore if possible. Get out of your boat and away from the water. Find shelter immediately.
Aca,!Ac If a thunderstorm catches you while afloat, remember that gusty winds and lightning pose a threat to safety.
o Ensure your personal flotation device is fastened and prepare for rough seas.
o Stay below deck if possible.
o Keep away from metal objects that are not grounded to the boat's protection system.
o Don't touch more than one grounded object at the same time (or you may become a shortcut for electrical surges passing through the protection system).