Planning for Emergencies While Fishing

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Planning for emergencies is just as vital as preparing for the big catch.

a fishing injury

Heading back to Manasquan Inlet after a good trip chumming up slammer bluefish on Barnegat Ridge off the Jersey Coast, I was in the stern gutting fish when the skipper yelled for me to come into the cabin. I tossed my knife into the fishbox, rinsed the blood off my hands in a bucket of salt water, and hustled inside, where I saw one of the anglers laying on the couch shaking ferociously while his two buddies held him down. 

“Do you know anything about this?” asked the skipper. I was 17 at the time and had never seen a person anywhere, much less 20 miles offshore, in the throes of a seizure, convulsing with arms and legs flailing. I shook my head no and stared as the situation transpired. Within a minute or two, though it seemed like forever, the man settled down as his friends restrained him. Frightened, I went back to the cockpit and began cleaning fish, my head spinning. Many years later on a Coast Guard license renewal I needed a CPR certification and remembered that fisherman. 

Most would agree that when you leave the dock in the morning your mind is on the fish, not something happening that requires medical intervention. Yet, potential emergency situations are everywhere, just waiting for a lapse in judgment to change the entire scene. A friend of mine sent me a video of him fishing for roosterfish from his kayak in Costa Rica. As he brought a nice fish to the boat he reached over and locked onto the fish’s mouth with his spring-loaded locking grips. What riveted my attention, however, was that he had wrapped the grip’s lanyard around his wrist. If a shark had grabbed that fish he could have been pulled overboard in an instant. When I commented about the nice fish but shared my concerns about his safety, he admitted he had never thought of it that way. 

The final moments of any fish battle will always be the most precarious period for an angler and crew. Serious teams have specific duties for each member to prevent mistakes or miscalculations, but nevertheless things go awry. Mates have plenty of tales to tell. One day at the charterboat dock at the old Bill’s Marina on Singer Island, a highly regarded mate backed into the slip with a treble hook embedded in his arm compliments of a smoker kingfish that gave a wicked shudder as it landed in the fishbox and sent the gang rig with its trailing hook airborne. Despite the injury there could have been a different ending had the flying treble shattered his sunglasses and nailed him in the eye, or struck his arm while the fish still had the other hook in its mouth. When was your last tetanus booster?

Experience on the water means more than skill: You’ve seen situations where things turn out differently than planned. Walking down a dock in the Bahamas I ran into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in some time. I reached out to greet him and noticed a large wad of gauze in his left hand. The consummate deckhand with decades of experience fishing the globe then told me the story. They were coming in from a good day with a mess of tuna and grouper. Rather than wait until the boat docked, he began to fillet some of the catch. The boat was running fast and hit a wave, and the knife passed through the fish into his left hand between the thumb and index finger, cutting to the bone. He had to fly off the island for medical treatment, hoping there would be no permanent damage. Good thing his boss owned an airplane. 

With offshore fishing, the program is being prepared and that includes first aid. Some hard-core fishing types might think a soggy box of Band-Aids and a roll of duct tape will suffice, but I look toward ocean racers like those of the Vendee Globe, who solo around the world, for a better understanding of how to prepare and protect myself. 

Certainly, a first-aid course is a start but having a professionally designed and stocked medical kit is the better answer. One such example is the Medical Support Offshore (MSOS) Medical Kit (www.msos.org.uk). Neatly packed in a floating Pelican case or a soft bag for easier stowage, the comprehensive kit is suitable for long-range overnight trips, where you might be 24 hours from land-based medical care. Kit modules cover a variety of first-aid needs, and come with an oxygen bottle. Kits also can be configured to Maritime and Coast Guard Agency (MCA) regulations for categories including private vessel, chartering, and full and short-handed racing. Such kits are also critical when venturing into remote locations and can be equipped with defibrillators or other specialized equipment. Going a step further, MSOS can provide telemedical communications via telephone and e-mail support 24/7 from your boat to doctors who also are experienced watermen, and can assist with Search and Rescue (SAR) support as well.   

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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