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January 29, 2013

Tips for Boat Cockpit Safety

The right gear and smart planning ensure a long angling career.

Be sure to click through all the images in the gallery above.

"So, this is how I’m going to die.” That thought entered my mind as I hit the water, hitched to a big swordfish on 80-pound-class stand-up tackle. My second thought was: “No, it’s not!” as I backed off the drag to keep the fish from pulling me under, slowly so the line wouldn’t backlash and jam in the reel. Nick Stanczyk and I were off Islamorada, in the Florida Keys, shooting a daytime swordfish episode. All was well until the wake of the camera boat hit our boat, knocking me off-balance and sending me overboard.

This was the first time in my life I had ever exited a boat unceremoniously. If anyone doubts how easily he can perish in an accident, he needs to rethink it. As well-thought-out as my emergency plan was, weaknesses ­surfaced, and I came away from that incident with a revamped strategy to ensure any angler on my boat will swim away from a bad situation with nothing more than hurt feelings.

Sure Footing

Never overlook the value of performance footwear on a boat. I wear sneaker-style shoes with thick soles for secure grip in wet and dry cockpits. Wearing sandals or going barefoot is foolhardy. In a grueling fight on stand-up gear, negotiating cockpits strewn with coolers, gear and fish, exposed toes or bare feet can get you into trouble.

Tag Team  

I have one person standing behind the angler who is hooked up. If it’s just me and a friend, I’ll do my best to spot him while he pumps and winds, and will attend to the helm when necessary. Spotting serves two purposes: Should the angler slip or lose balance, he can be righted. Some harnesses have handgrips expressly for this. Second, the spotter can prevent a fall and injury should the hook pull or line break while he is deep into a squat or leaning back on a pump.

Line Dance

I keep safety lines aboard to ensure against expensive outfits and anglers being lost overboard. The day I went overboard I had opted not to use them. This poor decision could have resulted in my drowning. My lines will now always be used with large fish and stand-up tackle aboard my boat. Make certain that safety lines are long enough to allow movement around the cockpit based on the boat you are in. Also make sure both the lines and ­the hardware you select are more than strong enough to handle an emergency.