What to do (or not do) when away from the sight of land and on a boat smaller than a 747?
October 13, 2010 8:18 PM   Subscribe

What are some do's and don'ts to boating, fishing, and (possibly) swimming while 20-40 miles from land? I'm not an idiot adrenaline junkie or a nervous Nancy or ignorant of any fishing experience but I would always rather do things 'right' than learn the hard way, even if 'right' is subjective.

Disclaimer: I'm going Anon and being vague about certain things to keep from giving my situation away in the one in a million chance the captain I'm referring to sees this post. Not that he/she would/should be offended, just for my peace of mind.

Situation: I'm lucky enough to have formed a friendship with someone who owns/captains a boat that is (easily) capable of getting to and from some great fishing spots off the panhandle of Florida. I've always been a fairly strong outdoorsy person and tend to find a matching hobby almost anywhere I end up... well it looks like deep-sea fishing might be it for now.

After going out for several trips and loving it I'm wanting to expand my arsenal of tips/tricks/skills for while we're out there. The captain is a bit one dimensional when it comes to the trips but I think is open to other ideas if presented properly.

Fishing example: All we do is bottom fish for grouper/snapper/triggerfish with the same exact rigging setup/hooks/bait in mostly the same spots (since that's what he knows and seems to be comfortable with). That's fine and I'm really enjoying it but wouldn't mind knowing more about how to take other fish, what the benefits of other baits (or even lures) are, when/how to chum the water, how to properly tend the rod while waiting for a bit, etc. Don't get me wrong we catch fish every trip but we often don't approach the limit for the target species. Pages like this are great but seem unclear on the more obvious points like

"When do you gut a fresh caught fish (or do you gut at all)?" Some seem to say on the boat ASAP, some seem to suggest icing and waiting until you get to the dock is fine. Some gut before they fillet, some don't seem to worry about it. The capt has his way but if I can step in and help at the end of the day it would be all the better for both of us.

Boating example: What bits and pieces I know about fishing totally overshadows my knowledge of deep-sea vessel handling. Beyond knowing/feeling like I could get the boat up on plane and to dry land and/or pick him up if he fell overboard, I'm a total rookie. Moreover, I feel like our strategy is pretty vanilla. Find GPS spot, estimate drift direction, drop anchor upcurrent, fish. Nothing like the skills that some people seem to have.

Swimming example: I grew up near the beach my whole life and my swimming skills are fine if nowhere near lifeguard level. However, hopping off his boat to cool off/swim/relax just seems hinky to me. This isn't Deadliest Catch where the water temp kills in mere minutes. We (currently) don't chum the water beyond what odor our bait puts off. We've seen/hooked a few sharks (mostly nurse, a hammerhead, and a few sand sharks) so there's that, but I mean people scuba the wrecks here very often so how dangerous (besides the occasional jellyfish or something) can it be.

There's so many factors to this question that I know I haven't covered everything but I'll address them as they come up I suppose. Thanks for the opinions and for those of you that are/ever have been in the area I'm describing please feel free to memail me for more info or *gods be praised if this happens* some coordinates of decent/awesome spots to visit. We do things by the book and don't harm the fish unnecessarily by the way.
posted by anonymous to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Attach a cork to your keys.
posted by pompomtom at 8:45 PM on October 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

I grew up fishing on the gulf coast. Send me a memail and I can give you some practical/specific advice on the fishing and seamanship questions. In a nutshell: while running between bottom fishing spots, you can troll for fish like king mackerel, wahoo, and tuna. If you spot debris or weedlines while running, you can troll the edges or stop and cast to those and have a good chance of picking up dolphin (mahi-mahi). Anywhere you are fishing that has triggers/grouper/snapper probably has amberjack as well. Get a subscription to "Florida Sportsman". For boating: find your local power squadron and see if/when they are offering a boating course. Buy a copy of Chapman's "Seamanship". No strong opinion on the swimming.
posted by kovacs at 8:58 PM on October 13, 2010

Keep a close and continuous eye on the weather and on outside sources of weather info - radio in the boat etc.

Know how to work the radio or whatever equipment he has to call for help.
Know your position or be marking it down so you could give it out over the radio.

Know where the floatation and rescue equipment (throwable life rings on ropes etc) is on the boat and be sure it's in easy grab range, not stowed somewhere.

Drowning doesn't look like drowning is a great article to read (subject of this Metafilter thread) -- the basic idea is, most drowning people don't thrash around and yell for help, they are unable to do that. To the untrained observer they can look as if they're just still in the water. Read the article for more on what to look for.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:02 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
@pompomtom: well said, will keep in mind for others but I leave my keys at the dock.

@kovacs: This is exactly what I'm looking for. Any tips for identifying weedlines on the scope (or were you talking about on the surface)? How to snag those amberjack since they aren't on bottom.. might have to look into that... Wouldn't mind grabbing some Bonita for bait/chum even.

@LobsterMitten: Great info, I tend to do most of these automatically though I haven't had the rundown on his radio yet so there's that. Channel 16 right? He also has a EPIRB and a SPOT for if the crap really hits the spinning air mover. I saw that other mefi post about drowning and completely agree.[!]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:57 PM on October 13, 2010

For boat handling skills the Coast Guard run excellent courses and they are pretty cheap. Look into what is required to get a boating license locally and take the various safety classes as well. You'll learn a lot! For example, one of the biggest dangers on boats is fire but most people don't really prepare for it. If you get more into boating basic engine knowledge comes in pretty darn handy. Other basic things that are good to know are how to launch and haul the boat or how to park it if you leave it docked, how to get a hook out of someone (and what tools to use), how to deal with jellyfish stings or spines, all that basic first aid stuff.

As far as filleting and gutting fish there are often regulations that govern what you can fillet onboard. If you are not totally familiar with your local reg book you should be. You can usually pick them up for free wherever you buy a license or at your local state fisheries office. And know where updates and changes to the regs are posted (usually online and at the docks). Don't rely on word of mouth. I personally prefer to gut fish asap but it's not a big deal if you're only out for the day. Learning to fillet well takes a while but is worth it.

Learn how to release the various species of fish properly if they are out of season or unwanted. This is an important skill that really contributes to fisheries management but sadly a lot of fish are released incorrectly and die as a result. If you're catch and release fishing then your hook choices may also be very different so that might be part of what you're seeing on online forums.

Fly fishing for large ocean fish is a lot of fun and something you might look into if you're getting a bit bored with bottom fishing. Skilled fly fishermen can catch amazing things on pretty light tackle!

Also look into kayak fishing if you would like to get out more but aren't in the market for a motor boat. There are active clubs all over and it's super fun.
posted by fshgrl at 10:32 PM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Top ten tips for avoiding a boating accident from the author of the drowning article, a Coast Guard rescue guy.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:37 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

As an ocean sailor and shipwreck survivor, here are things I keep close at heart. Some common sense, some complex, some personal:
  • Prevention is key. Working through a well-formed checklist for leaving and arriving at the dock in a methodical manner is one of the best methods I know for accomplishing end-to-end prevention. The USCG and several boating organizations can help inform the checklist, which should then be modified for your craft and conditions. Encourage your friend to work through the checklist with you, and to adopt it as standard op on the vessel. We are all human, we all forget, we all get tired, cold and distracted. By forming a habit around the checklist, you can easily reduce the time it takes to troubleshoot an engine failure, an equipment outage, etc. You will never find yourself lacking an essential supply or piece of safety equipment.
  • Never trust another human to provide safety for you. Provision it yourself, check it yourself, test it if possible. This means that you might want to invest in your own VHF radio, your own PFD with harness (I recommend Mustang and Baltic sailing PFDs, with manual inflation mechanisms), possibly your own EPIRB. Better yet, develop an appreciation for basic navigation, VHF communication standards (including how to contact commercial shipping) and marine first aid. Bonus points if you can get your friend to instruct you on what to do in the event of emergency, and to engage with you on various drills and methods of responding to an emergency. Since you're on a power boat, invest time in engine troubleshooting, fire prevention and response, battery and fuel monitoring/calculations. Two heads are always better than one, and on the water -- a well-informed solo operator is more than enough to prevent loss of life and vessel. You needn't be an expert, but you should be aware and capable. One simple way to start is to buy a copy of Chapman Piloting for your friend, with the express intention that it live on the boat. Your friend may already have a copy, but if it isn't on the vessel it's doing no good at all beyond providing a casual reference. A boat is not an airplane -- in many circumstances you may have time to consult such a manual to improve your decision-making skills.
  • Forget ego, forget polite. If your friend is making a decision that sits wrongly with you, find an acceptable and non-challenging way to ask questions and probe deeper into the "why" of the various practices and behaviors aboard their boat. The skipper is your leader, but asking a safety-minded question or offering an idea should be a socially safe activity on any boat you spend time on.
  • Set a plan with friends and family before you depart. It's ok to deviate, and you should always do so if the weather or conditions suggests a safer alternative. Still, having a clear departure place, destination, fishing grounds and return time can make a real difference when caught in an emergency. Given your location, you have more than a fighting chance to survive an offshore shipwreck or sinking if trusted people ashore can help narrow down options for your rescue team. Your friends and family should know your vessel name, description and the names of all passengers.
  • If it feels wrong, it often is. Unless you're a paranoid or easily spooked, listen to what your inner gyroscope tells you about the wind, waves and condition. Remember that moving downwind plays tricks on the mind, lulling you into a false confidence about your vessel's ability to make similar progress upwind, ability to return to your marina, and so forth. Ditto with current.
  • Bring more than you think you need. This isn't hike-in camping. Contribute to the first aid kit, have your own backup, layer clothing, bring redundant supplies.
So yeah, if I had to condense the above, I'd say one of the most important things you can do is to treat this hobby as your own and not your friend's. Sign up for a power boating course. Get a certification or two. Buy a book and get somewhat serious about the interest.
posted by cior at 12:46 AM on October 14, 2010 [68 favorites]

A follow-up, this collection of real-life survival accounts is a go-to resource for product reviews, potential scenarios and response strategies.
posted by cior at 12:55 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Don't dive or jump into the water without considering how you are going to get out - do you need to put down a ladder or hang a rope down first? It can be very difficult or impossible to get aboard some boats from the water - this is another good reason to keep at least one person on board at all times.
posted by AnnaRat at 1:32 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

For swimming:
Definitely keep at least one person on the boat at all times.
Lay out a long rope behind the boat with floats and handholds or knots, this is you can trail on the line.
Unless you're close to the line, swim on the up-current side of the boat so that if you get tired you can drift towards the boat and line.
Consider wearing fins if you know how to use them, with my fins I can outswim currents that would be impossible without.
posted by atrazine at 4:18 AM on October 14, 2010

Good fishing times of day and weather are at dusk and dawn, cooler, cloudy, on the brink of rain. Fish cannot contract their pupils and hide in bright, sunny weather. Hot weather decreases the amount of oxygen in the water that they breathe. You can recreationally fish on a bright, hot day in the middle of the day but you aren't likely to catch anything.

I speak from years of experience on family fishing trips being hustled out onto the boat at dawn in the most dismal weather conditions short of an actual downpour.

Fish that seem dead may revive when you rinse them in the sink or start cleaning them. When handling or cleaning a fish, do not put your hand into its mouth, even it looks like the most convenient handle and the fish looks dead. A family friend did this with a bluefish and CHOMP!!
posted by bad grammar at 7:34 AM on October 14, 2010

Be sure to bring anti-nausea pills if you're new to this kind of boating.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:36 AM on October 14, 2010

I saw "we do things by the book..." but want to make sure someone puts it down explicitly: even though it sounds super fun, and it's definitely done, alcohol and boating are a bad mix.

First, it is equally illegal as operating a car under the influence. Second, bad shit happens. I come from a lake-filled area, and the news is always full of boaters and jet-skiiers and swimmers and ice-fishers and snowmobilers who killed themselves and other people when drunk on the water/ice.
posted by whatzit at 9:46 AM on October 14, 2010

I'm leery of your captain buddy. Dozens of miles offshore isn't a casual outing you can just walk home from, it's step one in "never heard from again" if any of a hundred things go wrong. As cior says, on a small boat you must take full responsibility for your safety, and that includes these key points 1) navigating to shore, 2) staying afloat, and 3) knowing how to contact help. In your place, I would wear a PFD at all times (de rigeur anytime one is on a small craft anyway), have a compass strapped to my body and know how to use it, have a VHF radio strapped to my body and know how to use it (what local channels are used and what to say once you make contact), and have a GPS/EPIRB strapped to my body and know how to activate it. Getting Coast Guard certificate is a great idea.

Once you feel confident that you can handle your friend having a heart attack or seizure 30 miles from shore, that's the time to start seeing if he's up for more adventure. Not before.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:55 AM on October 14, 2010

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