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Boating Fun Can Turn

Incidents requiring Coast Guard show dangers on water

This Coast Guard training exercise was put into practice  last weekend. (Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard) This Coast Guard training exercise was put into practice last weekend. (Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

By: Mike Suchan, OutdoorChannelcom

Boating is a fun pastime for many, but it can turn into a nightmare rather quickly. Proving that are three recent occurrences that required Coast Guard involvement.

In sort of a remake of “Open Water,” a man and a woman survived a night floating up the Florida coast from Key Largo, where they fell off their boat, to Hallandale Beach, where anglers rescued them early in the morning.

Sean McGovern, 50, and friend Mellisa Morris, 52, who was visiting from Texas, spent 13 hours with no food, water or life jackets as they treaded water with the Atlantic current pushing them more than 70 miles. They fell off the back of the boat that was in gear and it drifted away.

“I don’t know what they were doing … but they must’ve been having a good time,” Steve Couch, one of the rescuers, told the Sun-Sentinel for this article.

Couch, two fellow off duty sheriffs and a firefighter/paramedic might not have gone to the area seven miles offshore if not for birds overhead. They were hoping for dolphin and were stunned to come across the dehydrated and weak pair.

“They were some lucky people,” said Keith Silvas, the paramedic trained specifically in water rescue.

The Coast Guard arrived and took over medical aid. The boat turned up later that day near Fort Lauderdale.

Across the country, the Coast Guard had to take to the air for another rescue on the same day. Competitors in the Great Pacific Rowing Race go from Monterey, Calif., to Honolulu, but when the weather started getting rough, one team found themselves in trouble when their 24-foot rowboat began taking on water.

A safeboat for the race was first on the scene but couldn’t transfer the four team members due to high winds and rough seas. A Coast Guard helicopter was called in and hoisted up three rowers, and a rescue swimmer remained on scene with the fourth rower.

After dropping the rowers off at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport to awaiting EMT crews and then refueling, the helicopter returned, where the fourth rower and rescue swimmer were hoisted into the aircraft. All four were in good condition.

“This was the most challenging rescue I've ever had,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Leon, an Air Station San Francisco rescue swimmer. “It was unique because there was no light, seas were incredibly rough and waves were crashing over the top of the boat, which was already filled with water. I'm glad we were able to get on scene and rescue the rowers because surviving the night in those conditions would have been difficult.”

Just a day later near Houston, four boaters had to jump before a tow and its barges collided with and sunk their 15-foot pleasure craft. The incident closed a two-mile stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway between Bolivar Peninsula and Goat Island.

“Only one of the four people had a life jacket on,” said Lt. j.g. Melissa McCafferty, a command duty officer. “It could have been way worse. Luckily, all of them could swim, but if that hadn't been the case it could have become a deadly situation.”

The closure was lifted after a good Samaritan towed the boat out of the waterway to a nearby dock. The Coast Guard is conducting an investigation.

It’s incidents like these that prompt the Coast Guard to strongly urge mariners to be prepared in case of emergencies. They advise boaters to bring survival equipment such as signaling and sound devices, a personal EPIRB, cell phone, radio and wear lifejackets while under way to increase chances of survival in the event something goes wrong.

And things can, and do, go wrong quickly.

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