A TowBoat US employee tosses a tow line to another employee to secure it on Delray Beach, where the 92-foot Viking sportfishing boat Pastime was beached on Nov. 3 after losing power. It took multiple attempts and three towing vessels to remove the boat on Nov. 5. Peter W. Cross/The Coastal Star
By Steve Waters
When a 92-foot Viking sportfishing yacht lost power and drifted onto the beach in Delray Beach last month, it raised questions of what boaters can do when such situations arise.
The first thing, said Capt. Chris Lemieux of Boynton Beach, is to drop your boat’s anchor to prevent a powerless boat from heading into the beach or drifting far offshore.
According to a statement posted on Facebook by Viking Yacht Co., the vessel lost power because of a fuel interruption to its generators and main engines. The boat’s crew was unable to manually release its anchor because it was “lodged into the deployment chute, rendering the anchor unusable.”
After several days on the beach, the boat was towed to the Viking Yacht Service Center in Riviera Beach, where it is being repaired and, according to the statement, will be “back fishing, hopefully by the New Year.”
Capt. Bouncer Smith noted that even after dropping anchor, boaters need to keep in mind that anchors don’t always hold the bottom. One of his close calls during the 54 years that he ran fishing charters out of Miami was when he anchored his 25-foot boat offshore and went to the back to fish for bait.
He tried to pull up the chum bag, which is used to attract baitfish, but it was hung on a fish hook. Smith didn’t know that and when he reached over to free the chum bag, the hook in the bag got stuck in his finger. Then the anchor broke free from the bottom.
“The boat was drifting toward the beach and I was hooked to the transom,” Smith said. “So I took my fishing pliers and grabbed the hook and yanked it out of my finger and ran and got the boat started before I got any closer to shore.”
The majority of boats in South Florida are a third of the size or smaller than the 92-footer and powered by one or more outboard motors. Lemieux, who runs fishing charters out of Boynton Inlet, said those boaters should be prepared in case their marine batteries die and the motors won’t start.
“I keep one of those cheap battery jump starters on my boat,” Lemieux said. “If you ever lose power offshore, you can attach it to the battery and jump-start your motor. For $50, it can save your day and get you back to the dock.”
Boats can also run out of fuel. Lemieux said that he’s seen fuel gauges go bad, indicating that his boat had more gas than it actually did. As a result, he fills his 27-foot center console with gas every time he goes fishing, or at least makes sure that he has enough fuel to fish offshore and get back to the dock.
Lemieux stressed the importance of keeping your boat’s engines in tip-top condition. A dirty motor that stops running and can’t be started might require your boat to be towed in.
“Be up on your maintenance and change your fuel separators frequently,” said Lemieux, explaining that the separator is a filter that removes water and particles from fuel. “Dirty gas, that’s usually what people have an issue with in motor breakdown. I change the filters every 100 hours” that he runs his outboard motors.
Both Lemieux and Smith said boaters need to watch the weather before they head offshore. If your boat or your boat-handling skills are not prepared to operate in rough seas, it’s better to stay home and wait for nicer weather to go boating.
“I can’t tell you how many boats I’ve seen sitting on the beach over the years, from freighters down to row boats,” said Smith, who recalled when hazardous conditions resulted in several occupants of a 21-foot boat drowning.
The tragedy was that the boat didn’t have a VHF radio or an EPIRB, an emergency beacon that, when activated, sends a distress signal to a satellite that is monitored by rescue agencies. Both provide location coordinates. The boaters used a cell phone to call the Coast Guard, but provided the wrong location, and it took too long for the boat to be found.
Outdoors writer Steve Waters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.