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Staying Calm Prevents a Boating Emergency

This boater’s cool head and attentiveness helped avert injury.

May 27, 2021
Boaters remove tree stuck in motor
Staying calm prevented further disaster. Tim Bower

My cousin, his wife, and my wife and I loaded up our 27-foot cruiser for a great day on the Ohio River to watch Thunder Over Louisville, a festival at Waterfront Park. The weather couldn’t have been better—it brought everyone out for the air show, and the fireworks later that night. Boats were everywhere, which had me worried because the river was above pool, and the current was very strong.

At 3 p.m., two young men in a runabout lost power, and the current slammed their boat into our anchor line, which became entangled with their outboard. The river’s strong current made it difficult to get everything untangled, but we finally did. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon afloat without any problems.

About 9 p.m., just as the fireworks were scheduled to begin, something hit the bow of our boat so hard that our anchor pulled. We were now floating downriver swiftly, right toward the barges loaded with high-explosive fireworks about to be set off.

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My cousin started the engine and applied full throttle, but we were still going downriver fast. A huge tree was trapped in the anchor rode. I cut the line, and the tree went under the boat and lodged on our sterndrive!

Still going downriver fast, the Coast Guard and police boats hailed us on their megaphones to stop. We couldn’t. My cousin then put the boat in reverse and backed us off the tree. This worked none too soon because, at this point, we could really feel the heat from the fireworks. Finally free, we kept going all the way back to the marina. We had had enough.

John Hertel

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Louisville, Kentucky

[Mr. Hertel and his crew maintained awareness, allowing them to act quickly. They kept calm and applied themselves to the situation, a big part of why the story ended happily. Here’s what else they might have done: Donned life jackets in case they ended up in the water; rechecked or even reset the anchor after the runabout hit their rode; and hailed the Coasties and cops on a VHF radio.

The unexpected can happen at any time on the water, whether you are the only boat around or part of a crowded fleet during a holiday. It’s imperative to remain aware and be ready to act decisively. —Ed.]

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