7 June 2018

When Betty* was enjoying an early morning fishing trip with her husband on the Tambo River, she had no idea her world was about to turn upside down – literally.

It was the start of a wintery day when Betty reached over the side of their 5.4m boat to untie it and set off for another location on the river.

When her hat caught on something and flew off her head, she instinctively reached out to catch it – slipping on the dewy deck and falling over the rail, head first into the frigid water.

Betty tells Maritime Safety Victoria that she concentrated on getting her head above water, as her body instantly felt the shock of the cold.

A usually confident swimmer, Betty was greatly weighed down by her bulky winter clothing and was struggling to catch her breath as the chill took hold and she doggy paddled back to the boat.

Husband Theo* raced to get Betty back on board, but despite being a strapping 195cm it took several attempts to get his weighed-down wife over the gunwale. Adding to the anxiety, Theo doesn’t swim so he definitely didn’t want to fall in too.

Once back on deck, a shivering Betty changed out of her sodden gear into all that was available – a spare windcheater and a blanket to wrap around herself.

Reeling from shock himself, Theo told her: “I can replace a hat, I can’t replace my wife!”

While the pair can look back and laugh now, they realise the outcome could have been disastrous.

“After just a few minutes in the water, it took hours to warm up and recover,” says Betty.

“Although it was a cold day, I had no idea the water temperature would send me into shock.

“Looking back, I realise I was incredibly fortunate not to hit my head on a submerged tree stump and get seriously hurt or worse.”

Betty shares her Lessons Learnt:

  • Victorian waters are cold all year round
  • If something falls in the water don’t try to reach for it, take your time and retrieve it safely
  • Even experienced boaters doing a simple task for the millionth time can be caught off guard
  • Even if it’s a clear day with good conditions and calm water, you can end up in trouble
  • Fit a ladder to your boat to help you get out of the water
  • Keep spare clothes on board
  • Have a thermal bag for warm drinks in winter.

* Names have been changed.

Read more about trip preparation