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Fishing Safety and Etiquette
(Some Simple Boat and Fishing Rules to Live By)
by Gerry Zagorski

If you are new to boating and fishing here are some boat fishing tips, common courtesy and safety suggestions that will make your trips safer and more enjoyable for all:
  1. Always check and set your drag BEFORE you start fishing. You don't want to be adjusting your drag when fighting a fish. This is a sure-fire way to loose that 50 pounder.

  2. Never run over the area you intend to drift. Running your boat over the area will scatter the fish

  3. When chasing birds do not run into the flock. Stay on the edges with the motor off and drift into the flock. Running into the flock will scatter the fish and most of the larger fish are usually on the edges any way.

  4. When you get back to the dock always spray your reels and poles off with a fine mist of fresh water. This helps stop the corrosive effects of salt water. A hard full force spray is worse then not spraying at all as it forces the salt into the reels components.

  5. Don't be boat stupid or cheap. It costs a ton of time money and effort to own and maintain a boat. If you're invited on someone's boat it's a common courtesy to offer to bring the bait, sandwiches or refreshments and to offer your help and assistance to get under way or clean up. If you've burned up some fuel make an offer to chip in for it. Your host might not accept but I can assure you the offer will be appreciated none the less. If you don't offer don't be surprised if you don't get invited again.

  6. If you intend to fish at night make sure all your running lights are in good working order BEFORE you leave the dock. It's also a good idea to carry spare bulbs.

  7. If your fishing at night you should be very familiar with the areas you will be running and fishing. You should not be fishing a new spot for the first time at night.

  8. When you're running make sure to give your fellow boaters plenty of space. If you get into a situation where someone needs to give way you should be the one to give way. Don't take a chance that the other boater knows the rules of the water or even sees you.

  9. If you're in a field of boats and want to move run at no wake speeds avoiding other boats fishing space. You don't want to disturb the fishing for others and your wake could cause smaller boats trouble.

  10. Don't troll in an area where others are anchored and don't anchor in an area where others are drifting.

  11. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to bad weather. If you happen to get caught in high winds and seas keep your bow pointed in the direction of the oncoming waves even if it means running in an opposite direction of your port. This is especially important to boats with outboards and open transom cut outs. These cut outs are a very common cause of swamping especially in a following sea.

  12. If your taking an offshore run make sure you have enough fuel, an epirb and a good working radio. You should always let someone know when to expect you back or file a float plan. You should always have 1/3 more fuel then you will need for the run. If a storm comes up and conditions get rough and you can't run up on plane your going to need all of that extra fuel to make it back in.

  13. Take it from me...Never rely on your GPS as your sole source for locating buoys, markers, shoals and shoreline. The shoreline changes drastically and frequently. Shoals move, buoys come off anchor etc. Use your eyes and ears in addition to the GPS and you won't wind up on the beach or stuck on a shoal . Happened to me once at night at the rips. My GPS showed me a good 100 yds off the beach yet there I was shaking hands with the surf casters.

  14. Always stop and help others in distress. If they are dead in the water and don't have towing insurance tow them in and make them promise to get some insurance. Don't take any money for gas just chalk it up as a good deed and hope that someone will do the same for you. If you're towing another boat make sure you leave at least 3 boat lengths between your boats. If conditions are rough make it 5 boat lengths. Unless you know what you're doing always tow below planning speeds. The boat being towed should have the lower unit in the water and the steering wheel pointed straight so it will stay on course while being towed.

  15. If your boat capsizes or is taking on water stay with the boat. Boats 25 feet or under built after 73 must have flotation built in so they should float even if full of water. It's much easier to spot a boat then someone floating alone in the water. Don't try and swim to shore or swim to keep warm. Swimming burns up energy and regardless how warm the water is if you expend all your energy swimming you're likely to succumb to the effects of hypothermia sooner. Keep all your extremities close to your body to conserve heat.

  16. If your dead in the water and in no immediate danger of sinking it's a good idea to throw your anchor so you stay in one place.

  17. Observe no wake zones. The law states that you're responsible for the damage caused by your boat's wake.

  18. Do not attempt to approach and or board another boat in pitching seas unless it's an emergency. Doing so is tricky and if not done correctly it can result in injury, boat damage or both.

  19. VHF radios are a must even if you plan to stay inshore. Don't leave the dock with out one. Besides being able to radio for help the coast guard and most towing companies are equipped with radio direction finders. They can use your radio signals to help locate you. Cell phones are a great back up but coverage can be spotty inshore and nonexistent off shore.VHF radios are also handy to be advised of any changing weather conditions.

  20. Channel 16 is used for emergencies. Keep this channel clear of all idle chit-chat. Once you establish communications with assistance on 16 switch off to another channel. If you can't raise the Coast Guard on channel 16 you are likely out of radio range. Your best bet now is to switch to a channel that most boats in the area monitor. High 60s and low 70s are good bets here in NJ. Once you make contact with another boat see if they can contact the Coast Guard for you since they might be inshore of you and be with in radio range and act as your relay. They might also have a single side band radio which is much more powerful then VHF and should be able to contact the Coast Guard no problem.

  21. There are 2 types of distress calls you should be familiar with Pan-Pan and Mayday. Pan is used to report a possible problem and Mayday is to be used if your boat is in immediate need of assistance due to sinking or fire. If reporting a mayday turn your radio to channel 16. Here is an example of how you'd do it:
    • Mayday, Mayday, Mayday
    • This is the fishing vessel Off The Hook, fishing vessel Off The Hook, fishing vessel Off the Hook.
    • Fishing Vessel Off The Hook approximately 3 miles SE of the Ambrose Tower.
    • Struck submerged object and taking on water and do not believe we can stay afloat for more then 1 hour. We are a 25 foot white hull with a hard top and 4 persons aboard.
    • Maintaining watch on channel 16
    • This is the fishing vessel Off the Hook over.
    • If you do not get a response continue repeating until you establish communication.

  22. If you have guests on board not familiar with your boat it's your job to make sure they know where the life preservers and fire extinguishers are and how to operate the boat and the radio in case of an emergency. You should also make them familiar with the emergency procedures so you can assign them different tasks in case of a sudden emergency. If the captain has to do everything and something happens suddenly some important things might not get done. Here is a good emergency procedure:
    • First thing you want to do is make your MAYDAY call and report your vessel name, it's approximate or exact location or GPS coordinates, the nature of your distress, a description of your vessel and the number of people and the medical condition they are in .
    • Locate and put on your life preservers.
    • While you or someone else are doing this, someone should be trying to remedy the cause of emergency. This could be extinguishing a fire, temporarily plugging the hole in hull or turning off a through hull valve etc...
    • You should only abandon ship when the water or your life raft is a better place to be then your boat. People in a sailboat race in Spain ran into some weather and abandoned ship. The sail boat was found afloat a few days yet the people were found dead in their life raft. There is an old saying... Don't get into the raft unless you're climbing up into it.
    • If you have a life raft whenever possible you should manually inflate it rather then let it auto-inflate. If the boat sinks and it causes the raft to auto-inflate the raft may be in a place that is hard to get to or it could even blow away. For this reason you and your crew should know how to manually inflate the raft.
    • Keep your life raft tied to the boat with the painter line if possible. The boat is a much bigger target for someone to spot then the a life raft. Even if the boat sinks, it will keep you in one place rather then being adrift and making you harder to find.
    • If you do decide to abandon ship it a good idea to have a ditch bag. This is a water proof bag you'd take with you on the life raft. Some things you might want to have in it are
      • Handheld GPS and VHF radio
      • Signaling flares
      • Signaling mirror
      • Water
      • EPIRB
      • Food
      • Mini reverse osmosis fresh water maker
      • Fishing line and hooks
      • Compass
      • First Aid Kit
      • Flash light
    • If you decide to abandon ship a good rule of thumb is not to eat or drink anything for 24 hours. You never now how long your going to be out there so it's best to conserve. If it's cold you should eat and drink immediately since your body needs energy to provide heat.

  23. Practice Man Overboard Drills (MOB) with the people who are usually with you when boating. Throw a hat over and do a HOB (Hat Overboard) drill. People who you run regularly with should know exactly what is expected of them and how the whole MOB procedure works. The first thing you want to do if someone falls in is turn the boat towards the side that the person fell over and post a look out so that at least one person is responsible for keeping in visual contact with the MOB. The next thing to do is take anything that floats and throw it overboard. Coolers, fenders, seat cushions, buckets, the throw cushion your supposed to be carrying by law etc...This accomplishes 2 things 1) It gives the person in the water something to float on and 2) It creates a visible floating debris slick which will help you or someone else locate the MOB should you loose visual contact with them. Last year some guy whose boat got overturned clung to a cooler for 18 hours and was rescued. If it wasn't for that cooler the guy would not have survived. Next thing if you have a GPS hit the MOB button to mark the position. Now you want to return and pick up the MOB. It's not really safe or effective to back your boat down since boats do not handle as well backing down as they do while moving forward. If you have the person in site the best thing to do is what's called a Racetrack turn. What you do is make a big oval to get back to where the MOB is and pick them up. If you lost site of the person the best thing to do is a Williamson turn. This is done by making a turn 60 degrees more then your present course, putting your wheel hard over until you're on the reciprocal course. Here is an example... You're on a course of 90 when someone yells MOB. You turn your to bring your boat on a course that is 60 degrees higher then your original course. In this case that would be 150 degrees (90+60). Once your reach a course of 150 turn your wheel hard over in the opposite direction and this will bring you on a reciprocal course of 270 and take you right back to the MOB location. This is the preferred method to use when you have lost sight of the MOB because it will bring you back on a reciprocal course every time. It does however require some skill and a maneuverable boat.

  24. The best way to avoid someone going into the water in the first place is to apply some sensible rules for your crew to follow. No one comes up on the fly bridge unless the captain is aware they are coming up. Many a person has ended up in the drink trying to climb the latter. If the captain doesn't know your coming up and you fall in on the way up your in trouble. The 2 man rule... Whenever someone is on deck another person should be with that person in case something happens. If you're going to go down below and catch some sleep tell someone so they know where you are. All people should be accounted for at all times. I heard a few stories that will drive these rules home. Some guy late at night was alone on deck sitting on a gunnel and fell overboard when the boat pitched on a wave and threw him into the water. No one realized he was gone for a half-hour until they couldn't find him on the boat. He ended up being rescued but that easily could have easily had a much different ending

  25. Be very careful running your boat in a following sea. When you're riding down the crest of a wave you can loose your ability to steer. If you're going too slow a wave can come up behind you and swamp the boat. For that reason it's sometimes best to take a following sea at angle even if it means running off course to get to your destination. If your running an inlet in a following sea and it's not possible to run at an angle your best bet is to position your boat between waves staying closer to the back of the wave ahead of you. Keep up just enough speed to make way and keep you boat between the waves.