I Learned About Boating From This: Capsize, Rescue and Lessons Learned

This boater’s quick action saved lives. Find out what he did right and the four things he would've done differently.
Rescuing capsized boaters
This boater’s quick action saved lives. Tim Bower

I live overlooking Lake Owasso, north of St. Paul, Minnesota. One early-spring morning, it was sunny, bright and 55 degrees. I looked out and saw an aluminum fishing boat upside down, with two people sitting on the hull.

I knew that I had to swing into action to perform a rescue. Ice-out was only two weeks prior, and the ­water was cold—probably around 40 to 50 degrees F. I ran out to my boat lift and cranked down my 17 Sea Ray. I did not wait for the blower to operate. I just headed over to the upside-down boat at full speed. Mistake No. 1: An ­explosion would have meant that I would need rescuing.

I arrived to find an older couple trembling with cold. Here I made ­mistake No. 2: I did not give them life jackets. Cold water saps the ability to swim. Instead, I just had them transfer to my boat via the swim platform. I asked the gentleman if he wanted me to tow the boat over to the launch area. Here I made mistake No. 3: I agreed to the tow. I should have taken them to shore to warm up in their car and retrieved the boat later.

Read Next: Getting Back in the Boat

I idled back to the dock towing the boat. Here I made mistake No. 4: I fussed around with the ­gentleman to prepare the boat for reloading on their trailer rather than getting the couple to their car to warm up. The lady was shivering. Finally, I got the boat on the trailer and returned home.

All were safe at the end, with only loss of their fishing gear. In retrospect, I made another mistake: I failed to call 911 to get the sheriff out to assist. Their office is about a mile and a half away.

Peter Rhode
Roseville, Minnesota

[Shivering is the first sign of hypothermia. Hypothermia can be deadly, and warming a hypothermic person is the priority once they are out of the water. Dress for the water, not the weather, and don wool clothing and a hat when boating on cold water. —Ed.]

Wanted: Your Stories
Share your boating mistakes and mishaps so that your fellow boaters might learn from your experience. Send us your first-person accounts, including what went wrong, what you’d do differently, your name and your city, to editor@boatingmag.com and use “ILAB” in the subject line. If your story is selected for publication, we’ll send you a $100 West Marine Gift Card!”