Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tragically Sad Death

I am a volunteer workamper at Hartwell Lake which borders Georgia and South Carolina. 

We had a fatality on Hartwell Lake this morning. On a clear beautiful day. 

It's unclear what happened as the lone survivor doesn't recall. He was in the boat driving with his lifelong friend and next thing he knew, he and his friend were in the water, with the boat circling around and around. His friend's arms and back, were cut by the engine propeller, the rapid loss of blood apparently killed him. 

This boat had a large outboard engine.  Any boat engine, when not being steered will be forced by the spin of the propeller to turn in that direction. This is why the boat was racing around in circles. The engine was still running. 

With no one on board, there was now no way to stop the engine. Neither man was wearing a life vest. They do make nice comfy life vests, they aren't all the big bulky Mae West kind. There are automatic inflatable type vests, that look like suspenders, until they are inflated. When you hit the water, it inflates or you can use a tube to inflate it yourself. 

This death is tragically sad in so many ways. They make a boat kill switch tether, you can wear on your wrist or attach to your clothing, with the other end  that attaches to the engine or the steering console of the boat. If the tether is  yanked out of the engine kill switch, then the engine dies.  Not the boater. I believe this is commonly sold with the new engine, but replacements are cheap and easy to get and use. 

A boat kill switch tether, (also known as an engine stop tether) could save a life. As of this writing, they sell on Amazon for $8 and up

I feel so sorry for the young man who lost his life today, and the loved ones he left behind. 

Many of us forego safety in pursuit of happiness. I was lucky in my young days, that the captain who taught me how to drive a powerful outboard engine, first showed me the kill switch lanyard, how to use it and why it was important to always wear and use it. Some outboard engines will let you lock the steering somewhat, so that the strain on steering it, is lessened. Imagine if you bounced out of the boat on a rough wave, and your engine and boat simply took off without you. 

I spent decades messing about in boats.  I've seen and heard of all manner of ways to kill yourself while boating. Sometimes boats are found adrift, leaving us clueless as to what happened to the occupants. I remember years ago, a boat being found in the Sir Francis Drake channel, in the British Virgin islands,  running at full speed in circles.  The previous occupant was never identified, nor found. 

Back in the late 80's or early 90's, I took a job aboard a charter yacht with a captain, the day before the charter was due to start. It was Thanksgiving week. I finished the charter, only to keep my reputation intact, but I wanted to jump ship within 24 hours. I probably should have too. But I stuck it out all week, then quit the job minutes after the guests departed at the end of their stay. 

I thought the captain was an irresponsible abusive drunk who had no business being in charge of a million dollar yacht.  When I expressed the same, to the charter house clearing agency, that had recommended the captain, sending me on the interview to work for him, they totally dismissed my concerns. In a not so polite way, they told me to shut up about the "popular captain", acting as if I was disgruntled crew, rather than take my complaint seriously. I was warned if I didn't hush up about my criticism, I would be blackballed and not allowed to work again as a charter chef. 

Within a few months, that captain was granted even a larger charter yacht under his command. I was shocked, wondering what charisma he possessed. He drank from breakfast right up until he passed out each night.Over the weeks and months, I ran into him often, in other anchorages, because we were both working as charter crew, but on different boats. He was always drunk, but busily working with his latest group of guests and chef. 

Then he accidentally killed one of his passengers, on charter. He was drunk and playfully knocked his passenger out of the dinghy into the ocean, while commuting from the bar on shore to the yacht on anchor, in the dark. He then ran over the passenger with the propeller. Because he was drunk, he didn't call for help until much later.  Instead he dove around, in the water,  on his own, trying to locate the passenger. 

After that tragedy,  the charter yacht agencies and clearing houses, began seriously looking to attract less drunken crews. 

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1 comment:

  1. A sad story -- it is especially upsetting for you when you volunteer there - but upsetting for all boaters, when a couple of inexpensive items (life jacket, killswitch) could have probably saved the young man's life.

    Amazing -- and scary -- story about the charter captain.


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