On Tuesday August 20, Ironclad Fishing had our second trip out to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT) looking for some deeper water action. The trip started out amazing! The weather was warm but not crazy hot and the three of us launched from Chix Beach next to Buoy 44. We paddled about a mile offshore and within 30 minutes we found a huge school of feeding bluefish. I caught well over 2 dozen and they were all decent size.
We were catching these guys almost every cast for over an hour.
After maybe 2 hours, I got a call on my cell phone from my fishing buddy who said his kayak was not handling right and he felt like it was going to tip over any moment. He said he was headed back to the beach and to keep an eye on him.
At this point we were over a mile off the beach, and you don’t ever want to go it alone if you feel something isn’t right with your kayak that far out. I immediately got all my lines in and rods put away and headed to him.
As I was paddling over to him, I could see he had started back towards the beach. However, his bow was very high out of the water and the stern of his kayak was sitting so low in the water I couldn’t see his crate.
I was 30 yards or so away when he finally couldn’t keep his kayak upright any longer and I saw him roll off into the water. The vast majority of his gear went into the water with him.
Thankfully, Chris and I ALWAYS wear our life vests when out on the water and this is the perfect example of why. We righted his kayak so he could try a deep water reentry, except it had taken on so much water it would not stay upright with the weight of his tackle bag much less his body weight. This left him floating in the water next to his kayak. He could use his stricken kayak as additional flotation but he could not reenter it without draining the water.
I made the attempt to allow him to ride on the front of my kayak, but the weight limit on a Trident 15 is around 450 lbs and that is more than enough for me and all my gear but no where near enough for a second fully grown waterlogged adult.
We then tried to self-rescue and tow everything back to the beach, except the weight of his water filled kayak combined with the drag of his body in the water, I was unable to make any sort of headway through the current that was going out and away from the bridge.
We took a moment to think about the situation, but there didn’t seem to be any way we could get the three of us and our kayaks back to the beach without assistance.
As soon and Chris and I started fishing several miles off the beach at the CBBT, I bought a floating handheld marine radio and paid extra for a model that includes internal GPS.
Before calling for any sort of formal rescue, I tried to contact nearby fishing vessels we could see less than a half mile away from us. I called multiple times, but either they did not have their radio turned on or they simply couldn’t hear me.
If you are ever out on the water in a coastal area, PLEASE have with you and keep your marine radio on! Kayaker or boater, or whatever your method of fun is, please have a radio and keep it on in case of emergencies. If any one of these three boats would have responded to our hails, we could have eliminated the need to ever involve the Coast Guard in the first place. We didn’t have any medical emergency, we simply needed a vessel to transfer Chris to so we could get back to the beach.
After multiple tries, I upgraded my hails to include pan-pan. Chris was not in any immediate danger to his life that would justify a mayday, but we were certainly in a situation that could escalate if we didn’t find a way back to shore!
As soon as I switched to include pan-pan in my transmission, Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads answered my hails and requested the details of our situation.
PAN-PAN – (pronounced pahn-pahn) used to signal urgent information, like when someone has fallen overboard, or a boat is drifting into shore or a busy shipping channel. If your emergency isn’t immediately life threatening, say Pan-Pan instead of Mayday, for example if you have a controllable leak, and you want help standing by in case it gets worse.https://www.boatus.org/marine-communications/calls/
Marine radio transmissions follow a very specific protocol. In our circumstances, my transmission began with the phrase “pan-pan” repeated three times to indicate distress. The name of your vessel is then repeated three times before stating your location and the nature of your emergency.
Since my kayak has no formal name, my transmission went like this:
Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan, this is kayak1, kayak1, kayak1 calling the white hulled fishing vessels one mile off of Chix Beach along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel
Almost immediately afterwards the Coast Guard responded to my hails.
Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads calling the vessel in distress. What is the description of your vessel, location, and nature of distress, over
Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads I am a 15 foot fishing kayak white and grey in color approximately one mile off of Chix Beach near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. We have a kayaker in the water. His kayak has taken on water and we cannot recover him from the water. He has flotation and our situation is stable, but we are unable to get him out of the water or back to shore.
Check out the YouTube video below for kayak specific emergency hailing procedures. I actually watched this exact video when I bought my handheld while searching for marine specific usage guidelines and this video is the reason I knew what to do during our own emergency (granted I didn’t think the opportunity would present itself so quickly).
I was able to relay descriptions of Chris’ clothing as well as his kayak to the Coast Guard station who then informed me they were sending a small boat to assist us. The sector station checked on us periodically while we were waiting for the small boat to arrive on scene.
When they asked for our location, I knew we were about a mile off Chix Beach based on our position along the CBBT. However, I was able to provide our exact GPS location thanks to my radio capabilities. I cannot overstate how comforting it was in a stressful situation to know exactly where I was. It may not seem like a big deal sitting on your couch or wherever you are at the moment since you can usually provide your address or nearest intersection. Sitting in the middle of open water with only the bridge for reference is unnerving to say the least. Now, we were within sight of the beach which provides some comfort, but knowing we couldn’t get Chris back there with the current almost made it worse.
Check out the link below to find out more about the Standard Horizon HX870’s capabilities! I can’t recommend this radio enough, since it literally saved a life. You never know what could happen, especially when miles offshore and far away from any support.
Even after the much more powerful USCG station rebroadcast the request for help at our location, the nearby fishing boats had no reaction so again they either did not have any marine radios on or they again did not hear the calls.
The USCG small boat arrived on scene 18 minutes after my distress call was received by the monitoring station. As you can see from the pictures, Chris’ kayak had taken on so much water it needed to be drained over the side of the USCG vessel before they could bring it aboard.
Chris is perfectly fine, although his ego may have been slightly bruised. His biggest loss was all his fishing gear that went in the water when he rolled over. Do you use rod leashes or rod floats?
I use these paddle leashes on occasion, but if I am being honest I do not use them regularly. If I were to lose the combos I typically bring out with me, it would probably cost me over $1000 to replace them all at MSRP. $14 worth of rod leashes would protect my investment from sinking to the bottom in the event I were to capsize.
While I did bring my radio on our outing, one vital piece of equipment I forgot to bring was my NRS kayak bilge pump. It is rather large hence I left it at home, but if I had had it with me we could have attempted to pump the water out of Chris’ kayak and effect a self-rescue. These pumps are cheap ($20) and can move a very large volume of water in a short time. If you start taking on water, you can alternate pumping out water while paddling back to shore. However, this does require you to have access to the interior of your SOT kayak which is not guaranteed depending on your kayak manufacturer.
Ultimately, this situation was resolved without any injuries and only minor property loss. It may have also cost Chris lunch as payment for saving his life…
It was unfortunate that it happened, but given the positive outcome overall it was a great learning moment for everyone involved. Trip planning and emergency preparedness played a big part in the positive resolution. Being prepared with the proper safety equipment helps everyone remain calm so you can make the best decisions possible. Always prepare for the worst even if hoping for the best.
If you want to try joining us on our adventures or just want to keep up with our tips and tricks make sure to join our mailing list and head over to our Facebook page for the most up-to-date information on our outings!
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