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Thread: When to help a vessel in distress?

  1. #1
    Member patrickL's Avatar
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    Default When to help a vessel in distress?

    My family and I finally made a trip to the sound for a multi-day trip...our first since we had our son a month ago. It seems like everytime I get out to PWS this year there's a flurry of calls to the coast guard because someone ran aground. In May there was a C-dory in Culross, then again 2 weeks ago we made a single day trip and over heard another call for a vessel aground. Then this weekend, Saturday, on our way out we heard of a vessel sinking the day before and washing up on shore. Then Sunday the real action started with several boats in distress. One, which was discussed in another thread ran aground in Culross and then later sunk on a beach. Another reported taking on water but hadn't been located in several hours of looking. This then brings us to the third which we tried to help out.

    We were anchored up fishing and heard a distress call for a boat that last power and it's backup kicker was failing. They sounded pretty concerned that they were going to get into trouble and needed some immediate assistance. No one responded in his 2 or 3 attempts to get help and the Coast Guard couldn't communicate with him. After relaying a few messages I figured I was the only one in the area but still 10 miles away. At this point his kicker had completely failed and he was dead in the water so we pulled our rods, anchor and started heading that way. A commercial vessel even a bit further away offered to tow him into town as but he was a slow mover so it was going to be awhile until he got there. We decided to get up there quick and get the vessel in distress and after we made sure he was safe we could pass him off to the commercial boat coming up behind us. Funny thing was on our way up we passed another 3 or 4 boats, both commercial and recreational. Then just before we got there a large yacht pulled up to him and in the end towed him to whittier.

    My question is, when do you decide to go help? What was interesting was no one was offering this help on 16 even though there were multiple vessels closer. Two or three boats passed the distressed vessel and we passed another 3 or 4 on our way up. So when do people decide to assist and how far are they willing to go in what they do? Sure seems like this year is flush with vessels in distress in both PWS and Seward.

  2. #2
    Member TWB's Avatar
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    While I don't get out to salt much anymore I have my share of experiences helping or at least touching base with other boaters to ensure everything is legit.

    Personally, I would at least make a run out if A) they are within safe distance and B) weather permits. Safety is always first so don't put yourself in a compromising position, that only leads to a possible second distress.

    Never hurts to lay eyes on a vessel, not always can someone make a true an accurate assessment of how bad a situation really is.

    "Were okay" or "it isn't that bad" doesn't always work.
    We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home; in towns and cities; in shops, offices, stores, banks anywhere that we may be placed

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    You did right by acting after not hearing any response from others. What other option is there ? The boat in need and/or the assisting party should have radioed that they were getting help as soon as someone arrived.

    All to often people think only of themselves and only of the moment without regard to others, during a time of duress/stress that is understandable, but after contact was made by the assisting party, some consideration, a radio call that they are well on the part of the party in distress, certainly was warranted.

  4. #4

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    Agree with TWB. If you are close enough to get there and will not be putting yourself in a risky position, respond. You never know when it will be you needing assistance and as has been said in other forums, this is Alaska and it can kill you pretty quick. Not responding to a distress call could end in someone losing their life.

  5. #5

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    When?

    Immediately. End of story for me.

  6. #6
    Member Ak Bird Brain's Avatar
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    How fast would you want help if you needed it? Not everyone monitors 16 at all times. I've even been known to turn my volume down and forget to turn it back up for awhile. Do what you can to help when you can and when it comes your turn to ask for assistance you'll know help is on the way.
    Granted, I'm not going to throw my rod overboard to speed to the rescue of a vessel that ran out of gas on a calm day. I little time adrift will help them recalculate their fuel consumption for future trips.
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    Premium Member kasilofchrisn's Avatar
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    Good job on responding to the call for help.I think you did the right thing and it is hard to believe others did not respond.
    I don't always monitor my VHF though when I am anchored and my motor shut off so maybe some of those boaters were oblivious.
    I have never found myself in a position to help someone as I have always been too far away and someone else was always closer.
    A couple of things do come to mind though that I am reminded of from reading this.
    First of all we should all be prepared for the worst with survival gear etc. We should always strive to keep our gear in good working order. Stuff happens though.
    Another good reminder is to test your kicker before going out. It only takes a minute or two to drop mine and fire it up. If it doesn't run properly it is time to rethink our plans. Remember your life may depend on it.
    Another thought that comes to mind is the idea of a Seatow or Boat US tow service in PWS.
    We had one in Homer for a few years and it was nice. They had a boat set up properly for towing with big enough engines to get the job done and a proper tow setup on the stern. They had built in jumper cables and spare fuel for boaters who ran out.
    Their was an annual membership fee of something like $120. Card members got free tows and jumpstarts. Fuel drops got charged only for the fuel recieved. Non members had a much higher fee but at least you knew it was a trained,experienced,and sober captain with the right equipment to get it done.
    Maybe there is enough need in PWS for one of these type services?
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    Member skybust's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BrownBear View Post
    When?

    Immediately. End of story for me.
    Same for me because some day it could be me needing the help
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    Member DMan's Avatar
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    Patrick, I figure if I ever needed help I would want someone to respond immediately so thats what I try to do if no other boats that are closer are responding. When the boat went on the rocks in culross back in May I was about to pull anchor from 20 miles away to go help until I heard the Explorer was on site. With flat water I can run at 45 mph so I could have been on scene in a half hour. Last month I heard a boat calling the coast guard but no response they were 7 miles from the harbor and I was already to the harbor and turned around to go help. Another boat was responding as well but I was able to get there faster. On the way back out passed 10 plus boats headed in that could have easily stopped. If no one would have responded he would have been up against the cliff by the falls. We towed him in. He was totally unprepared and didn't have near the right equipment on board. Took us a couple of hours by the time we figured out we couldn't get him going and towed him in. It's the right thing to do. It's life or death. You did the right thing. Good on ya.
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  10. #10

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    Rescue the people not the boat! What is state law on liability if you try and tow or rescue boat and something goes wrong?

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    Member JR2's Avatar
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    I stopped and helped out a guy right off the dock in Whittier last trip out. He was flashing a flashlight at me as I approached and I had heard people on the radio talking about the boat that had run out of fuel and went up on the rocks. Turns out the guy had run out of fuel, went up on some rocks, had someone pull him back off shore and give him 5 gallons of gas....but he ran out again trying to get back to the Harbor. I told him I would not tow him but I would stay with him until someone brought him some fuel, or came to two him. I did not have any extra fuel but after about 45 minutes of relaying messages to the harbor master and calling on 16 looking for someone to give him some fuel I someone finally stopped and gave him enough to get to the harbor. He caught up with me in the parking lot and was very thankful that I hung around. Told me he had the boat out for 6 hours on big lake the previous weekend and burned half a tank, this trip he had been out for two hours and ran out of fuel. He thought maybe someone had "borrow" some fuel when it was parked.

    I am with everyone else, I listen to the radio and if I am close I will head that way. Even my little boys know when the hear the coast guard on the radio they need to be quiet so Daddy can hear as someone might be in trouble.

    I will not tow anyone unless its a life threatening situation and then it would just be to a safe anchorage. I am going to put a 5 gallon gas can on board now so I can help with fuel if needed. Other than that, come on board and I will take you to Whittier if you want, but your boat is staying here as I will not accept the liability of towing a boat and the chance for serious engine damage trying to do it.
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  12. #12

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    A lot do not listen to or keep VHF on 16, but shame on them for not offering any help if they where. I have help save a family from possible bad bad day. Also once got helped.
    I would rather help that find out the next day someone lost there life when I could of helped.
    Basicly your on your own out there so being ready, and understand options for self rescue, kicker, anchor, beaching or dingy!

  13. #13

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    And if someone does help you, especially if they tow you, thank them profusely. Also, pay them for the fuel that they burned towing you in. And then pay them some more. If you would have called out a boat to tow you in, it would have cost you much much more.

  14. #14
    Member Rob B's Avatar
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    I for one ALWAYS have my radio on and turned up so I can hear it all day. I've responded to a couple calls and would never even think about not helping anyone out in an emergency. I broke down a couple years ago in some rough water (Port Wells). Noone answered the radio call, boats passed by after I shot off a flare and smoke. Finally the "Eye of the Storm" stopped and towed my out further to safety until the ITSWOOT could get there and tow me into Whittier. I was blown away by the amount of boats that passed me by and didn't help. I understood why the charter couldn't do more than the short tow, but all the others??? So, after that I pay attention to the radio and try to help out anyone I can. It's a big place to be stuck and too much can go wrong to fast. Good on ya PatrickL. I hope you are out there if I ever have anything go wrong again.
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    Member patrickL's Avatar
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    I guess I was just a little surprised that there were so many vessels in his vicinity that didn't even offer to help. I didn't even think about them not listening to channel 16 which is certainly a real possibility. Like most of the rest of you I leave my radio on 16 all the time just in case there's someone in need of help and I'm the closest. The only time I ever turn the radio off is when we go to sleep at night so the radio doesn't wake our two young boys. I'm certainly willing to help when I'm the closest and it's good to know alot of other people are willing to do the same.

  16. #16
    Sponsor potbuilder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JR2 View Post
    I stopped and helped out a guy right off the dock in Whittier last trip out. He was flashing a flashlight at me as I approached and I had heard people on the radio talking about the boat that had run out of fuel and went up on the rocks. Turns out the guy had run out of fuel, went up on some rocks, had someone pull him back off shore and give him 5 gallons of gas....but he ran out again trying to get back to the Harbor. I told him I would not tow him but I would stay with him until someone brought him some fuel, or came to two him. I did not have any extra fuel but after about 45 minutes of relaying messages to the harbor master and calling on 16 looking for someone to give him some fuel I someone finally stopped and gave him enough to get to the harbor. He caught up with me in the parking lot and was very thankful that I hung around. Told me he had the boat out for 6 hours on big lake the previous weekend and burned half a tank, this trip he had been out for two hours and ran out of fuel. He thought maybe someone had "borrow" some fuel when it was parked.

    I am with everyone else, I listen to the radio and if I am close I will head that way. Even my little boys know when the hear the coast guard on the radio they need to be quiet so Daddy can hear as someone might be in trouble.

    I will not tow anyone unless its a life threatening situation and then it would just be to a safe anchorage. I am going to put a 5 gallon gas can on board now so I can help with fuel if needed. Other than that, come on board and I will take you to Whittier if you want, but your boat is staying here as I will not accept the liability of towing a boat and the chance for serious engine damage trying to do it.
    why didn't you just push him over to the float in front of the harbor? I can see not wanting the responsibility of towing a boat a long ways but if its in front of the harbor a slow easy push/tow won't hurt a thing.

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    I'm going to be a little different here.

    There's a huge difference between a vessle in distress and a MayDay call.

    There's also the reality of towing someone 50-75 miles back to port.

    If someone is out of gas, or their engine died I'll help out if I'm in the vicinity. Last weekend I gave a guy some oil because he had a leak and was running low. Thats a distress call. I won't tow them 50 miles back to port, but I will tow them to a safe anchorage where they are out of harms way and can contact one of the many commercial outfits that tow for a fee.

    Mayday calls are another story. This is life and death. Then you respond and do whatever it takes to save lives.

  18. #18

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    I'm going to throw this out there.

    Say you are at anchor, you've had a few cocktails and a call comes over the radio about someone out of fuel. What do you do?

  19. #19
    Member Alaskanmutt's Avatar
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    Depends, A couple cocktails do not even faze me. (over active liver)
    If they are drifting onto the rocks? I head out
    Drifting out to sea? No one else answers? I head out
    Anchored in Long Bay and they are safe? I tell them I will see them in the morning.
    They need to leave to get back to work? Start paddling
    If I have had enough to faze me? Unless it is life or death then I stay put
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  20. #20
    Member pacific23's Avatar
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    From Chapmans book,
    A ' VOLUNTARILY EQUIPPED SHIP" ship ( the term SHIP includes a boat of ANY size ) is not required to have its VHF radiotelephone on; but when it does, it is required by law to monitor Channel 16 when not actively engaged on another channel.A non commercial vessel , such as a recreational boat, may alternatively maintain a watch on Channel 9 ( on some sets, 09 ) but this is disadvantageous as there would be fewer craft listening on Channel 16 and fewer would hear a distress call.

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