I had read about this particular Exmouth fishing incident in January 2017, so when it was advertised on 60 minutes a few weeks ago, I was keen to tune in and hear what the fisherman had to say in person. For those who are not aware of the story, Ross Chapman, a keen marlin fisherman who regularly ventured fifty kilometres off the Exmouth coast on his own, fell overboard with the motor in gear and was miraculously rescued. While in the ocean watching the boat motor away, he managed to grab the fishing line and for forty five minutes slowly worked his way back to the boat. He was within two metres when the line snapped and this time there was no chance of getting back on board. Take a minute to think about what would be going on in your mind at this stage. Among other things, I would be vowing never to put myself in that situation again if I was somehow rescued. Sometime later another vessel found the empty boat and on investigation of the track log on the GPS, was able to estimate where the man overboard occurred. The alarm was raised and all boats in the area were called in to start a grid search. Incredibly, another game fishing vessel detoured from their trip to assist, the skipper spotted Ross waving his hands and he was plucked out of the lonely sea, six hours after falling overboard without a lifejacket on.
Much of the media hype at the time focused on the fact that Ross was fishing on his own and was not wearing a lifejacket. Of course, if he was fishing with a buddy and wearing a lifejacket, then he has a greater chance of rescue, but the falling overboard in the first place is not resolved. The main issue was that the skipper left the helm, in forward gear, to do something at the rear of the vessel and when the Go pro camera dropped, he fell in trying to grab it. What if both the skipper and crew were at the rear of the vessel, while it was in gear and they both fell in, or the boat hits a wave, or the marlin lunges, or worse still one of them lands on the prop. Then they are both in the drink with lifejackets on, but no-one knows they are in the water. Having a lifejacket will increase your survival time in the water and I wear one 24/7, but what about preventing the incident before it occurs, rather than finding ways to increase the chance of being rescued after it occurs. At the end of the show, when Ross was asked if he would do anything differently next time, he said he would look like Inspector Gadget, I assume meaning he would be wearing a PFD with a 406 personal locator beacon. This still requires emergency services and resources to be deployed to find him 50kms out to sea. Not to mention the shark issue while he waits for the rescue. Sure, have all these gadgets, but the answer is way more simple. If he needs to go to the rear of the vessel while it is in gear, attach an extra long safety lanyard from the motor to his PFD or ankle, because the wrist is not practical and the problem is solved. There have been many sad incidents involving people losing their vessel or worse still the vessel coming around and hitting them after falling overboard. I call it being in the 1%, because 99% of skippers don’t wear it.