30 August 2019

A new boater set out on a calm day, and didn’t panic when he got in a spot of bother. However, the setting sun and a dead phone meant spending a cold night in the elements.

The man had got his marine licence in January 2019 and purchased a 5m inboard powered vessel that he had taken out on several trips on various waterways.

While out on this day – he became disorientated in the fog and became stuck on mud flats on the fringe of Port Phillip Bay. While he was not concerned for his safety, he was not able to manoeuvre his vessel without sucking sand into the engine – so he decided to sit out the tide and the fog and enjoy the day. While relaxing, he made some calls and enjoyed the serenity of his location.

Later in the day he became concerned that he was not going to be able to make it back to the boat ramp under his own power, so called 000. Between this call and a subsequent call to the Water Police, he was able to make way and managed to move towards the boat ramp – but again became stranded by shallow water and with the high likelihood of engine damage from overheating, he settled in to await rescue.

At this time his mobile phone battery was also exhausted, and he could no longer communicate with the Water Police or any shore-based family. At some stage during the afternoon he let off some red hand flares when he thought he heard ships’ horns, but the flares were not visible to anyone through the fog.

The searchers were not able to locate him in the evening of the Sunday – so he had to jumper up and hunker down for a cool night alone on the boat. He did not consider walking out as an option, as the water was extremely cold, and the foreshore was thick mud.
Soon after sunrise on the Monday morning, the Water Police arrived. They took the man on board and towed the boat off the sandbank.

Lessons Learnt

  • Only one source of calling for help was on board – a mobile phone. A mobile phone can have limited reception on any waterway, has limited battery life and may fall overboard. A marine radio or a distress beacon can provide a more timely and robust method of raising the alarm and updating location if drifting.
  • Heading out in the fog led to disorientation. This resulted in the vessel becoming stranded in shallow water – but also makes maintaining a proper look-out problematic. Ensure the weather and conditions are right for your trip: Know the weather.
  • This trip took place in the middle of winter and the temperature dropped to -1C overnight. Thankfully the boater had a large jacket, beanie, towels and lifejackets to keep warm. Pack clothes for the worst case – which could mean immersion in water or stuck in a rainstorm.
  • Limited hours of daylight or changing weather conditions can delay or complicate a rescue operation. Alert authorities as soon as possible.
  • Something could happen where you are unable to raise the alarm for yourself. Share your intended trip plan with a friend or family member – agree a trigger time for them to raise the alarm if they can’t contact you. You can also use the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard’s SafeTRX App.