Because Stuff Happens

After what should have been a rip-roaring good time on a jet ski ended with multiple injuries and a trip to the hospital, I learned, first hand, that water isn’t always the safest place to be. And it got me wondering just how many bad things happen to people on the lakes.

 There’s a company called Sea Tow, and when those bad things happen, they’re the ones who come to the rescue. I talked with the owner, John Ward, and the local manager, Daniel Weingart, who shared some very interesting stories. Stay tuned, the stories are coming.

 Perhaps the most important thing John said to me – and it makes sense – is that one of the causes of incidents on the lake is lack of experience. Most of us spend two hours or more in our cars every day, and have since we were in our teens. That’s a lot of experience. Even active boaters only spend a small fraction of that time on the water. The more experience you have, the better your judgment is.

 Beyond that, driving on the roads isn’t much more difficult than a paint-by-number kit. Traffic lights tell us when to stop. Signs tell us just about everything to expect up ahead. And there are lines everywhere telling us exactly where we should be on the road. When you head out on the lake in your boat, you’re on your own. It’s just you and a lot of water. No signs, no lines. In its own way, boating requires more thinking than driving does.

 So just how many incidents occur on our area lakes each year? These incidents include running out of gas, mechanical failure, getting lost, sinking, collisions and a host of weird things caused by poor judgment or simply not paying attention.

 About 700. Five hundred on Lake Norman alone. And these are only the people who call Sea Tow. So there are probably hundreds more. That’s a lot of stuff happening.

 We tend to think that bad things only occur to other people, but to someone else, we’re other people. In other words, stuff can happen to any of us. Even those of us who think we’re too smart, or too careful, for bad things to happen.

 

Photo Courtesy of SeaTow

 While many of Sea Tow’s calls come from people who suffered a mechanical breakdown, or something else beyond their control, there are plenty of calls from people who should have their hand slapped and be sent to time-out.

 John and Daniel regaled me with great stories, and herein I’ll share some, but John’s favorite comes straight from the Department of Foolishness.

 A father and his soon-to-be son-in-law despised each other. But since the marriage was going to happen, they decided maybe they should bury the hatchet, and a good way to do it would be to spend a day on the lake fishing together. Not the solution they had hoped for. They fought and argued constantly, long and hard enough to scare all the fish away. In a fit of rage, the future son-in-law grabbed the key from the ignition and threw it in the water. Sea Tow members have key floats, so that when their keys end up in the water, they’re easily retrieved. But these guys just kept arguing, long enough that the key had plenty of time to float away, never to be seen again. Sea Tow rescued them, however, and towed their boat back to shore.

 

 There are a lot of places you take your phone but shouldn’t. But the lake is one place you want to be sure to have your phone with you. Especially if it’s a smart phone. If you’re lost, your phone can help you figure out where you are, or for the rescue folks to find you. Sea Tow got a call from a man who was lost somewhere on the 32,510 acres of Lake Norman without benefit of one of those nifty smart phones.

 The conversation went something like this:

(Sea Tow) “Can you give us some idea of where you are?”

(Stranded Boater) “I can see a tree with a bird’s nest from where I am.”

Yeah. That helped.

 And bad things happen to rich people, too. This guy’s out on his bazillion-dollar, 60-foot yacht when an electrical problem occurred … while he was cruising at about 50 mph. He became consumed by the electronics, paying no attention whatsoever where he was going. He ended up beaching the boat at – you guessed it – 50 mph. Ouch.

 While Sea Town has pulled all sorts of submerged boats out of the water, the most unusual call involved a sea plane, which sank to a depth of about fifty-feet when its pontoons filled with water. No drain plug. Details matter.

 Two ladies cruising the lake at warp speed on a jet ski, ended up in very shallow water. Shallow, muddy water. By the time the jet ski finally stopped it was 100-feet into deep mud. Very deep mud. They were buried in mud, literally up to their bikini tops. Medical emergency couldn’t get to them, nor could the sheriff. But Sea Tow, whose people are trained to handle almost anything, did manage to rescue the ladies, who hopefully learned to pay more attention to where they were going.

 Then there was the guy who was not a Sea Tow member and refused to pay the bill for having his boat towed back to shore because he “paid a lot of taxes.” Maybe he shouldn’t have to pay for his groceries, either.

 

They shared a couple dozen more stories, some of which involved shenanigans on the water, but I think you get the point.

 Daniel suggested everyone keeps a basic first aid kit on his boat. Because (wait for it) … stuff happens. And just like on the highway, always watch out for the other guy. He might be the one with a half-empty case of beer on his boat. Another safety consideration should be to watch for fog. In really dense fog, which we often experience on area lakes, it doesn’t matter where you are. You’re lost.

 Stuff happens.

 For about a hundred bucks a year, you can protect yourself on the highway with an AAA membership. And millions of people do. Think of companies such as Sea Tow as an aquatic version of AAA.

 While people spend ten, twenty, fifty or even a hundred thousand dollars for their boat, a hundred dollars a day for gas, docking fees, and more, why they wouldn’t spend ten bucks a month for emergency services on the water, baffles me.

 For $119 a year, Sea Tow will get you out of trouble on any lake, anywhere. And, for another $60 (or $179 total), you can add offshore services to your membership. A small price to pay for people who can help you with anything from running out of gas, to finding, and retrieving, your boat if it decided to become a submarine.

 The point of all this? Always watch out for the other guy. Always pay attention to what you’re doing and where you’re going. And always understand that no matter how careful you are on the water, and how much boating experience you have, even when it’s not your fault, stuff can happen.

 

Photo Courtesy of SeaTow

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Pilot Media publishes boating guides providing comprehensive information on boating and waterfront living. Each edition includes an index of boat related businesses, reference maps, marina & boatyard guides, a directory of waterfront & water-access restaurants - The Pilot's Galley - and a Fishing Guide that includes a directory to area fishing service providers.  Read more >

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