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Be prepared at sea

By NICK WALTER

nwalter@bradenton.com

In light of the recent offshore tragedy that the outdoors community no doubt has become familiar with, it’s appropriate to offer some guidelines anglers can follow to ensure this never happens to them.

Condolences go out to Marquis Cooper, Corey Smith, and Will Bleakley, who were lost at sea.

As with many such tragedies, perhaps the best we can do is learn from it.

Fishing can be a sport that transforms one from a hectic world into one connected with nature.

When heading offshore, do not only be prepared to handle the predicted weather that may come that day. (Check the National Weather Service Web site at www.weather.gov, or call NOAA at (813) 645-2506 for a local forecast.)

Consider what you may be facing while waiting for emergency help. Some anglers may want to fish a small window just before a front, when the bite typically is good. However, the bite is rarely worth the possible risks, whether that bite is offshore before a front, or inshore before a pending thunderstorm.

Once you know your boat can handle the conditions of the sea, considering everything from wave height, wind speed, etc., make an advance plan.

Anglers can file a float plan with SeaTow (1-800-4-SEA-TOW). This way, anglers can indicate the date they’re going out, their course and heading, how many people will be onboard, where they’re leaving from and returning to, and the time they intend on returning.

“A float plan is the first thing I do,” said Capt. Hank Williams of Wet Willy Charters.

If you’re on your spot in rough conditions do not short-anchor. It’s a good idea to let out rope at four times the amount of water depth that you’re fishing.

Williams, for example, keeps 1,000 feet of anchor line so that he can safely anchor in 250 feet of water.

Another great device to have with you is a “spot” satellite personal tracker. (See www.findmespot.com/en/). The device is waterproof and alerts emergency responders to your G.P.S. location. In Florida it’s used by campers, hikers, boaters and hunters.

Williams is just one of the anglers who take advantage of a “spot.”

“If I were to fall over in the water,” Williams said, “there’s a button, and I press it, and it sends a signal out to the Coast Guard, or to whoever I have programmed into that. It’s waterproof and that would save my life.”

Capt. Ryan Rolland of Outriggers Sportfishing Charters in Sarasota carries a raft in his offshore boat, and for good reason. Nine years ago, he was out in a 38-foot commercial boat in 150 feet of water when predicted 20 mph turned into 60-70 mph winds.

“I put 1,000 feet of anchor rope out,” Rolland said. “And stabilizer arms. It still freaks me out. Just reliving those moments gets my adrenaline going.”

After two days in the Gulf, the weather calmed, and Rolland returned safely.

Rolland also carries an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), which may cost around $400.

If an angler is thrown overboard, they hopefully will be wearing a personal flotation device. If not, reach for any floating object that is around. Do not swim for the boat. Instead, relax and wait for the boat to circle toward you.

“Sooner or later,” Williams said, “you’re gonna roll the dice and something is gonna happen. And you’re either prepared for it or not.”

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