Captains and Crew Need to Make Personal Health a Priority

We take good care of the boat and tackle, but being mindful of our own health is often secondary

health measures for anglers
Something as simple as a blood test and a physical exam could save your life.Dennis Friel

It’s a common conversation: “Boss, I just changed the oil and mailed off the oil samples for an analysis. I also noticed the engines are due for their 1,000-hour tuneup.”

We as captains take such good care of the boss’s boat, their tackle, and maybe even their cars and pools, so why don’t we take better care of ourselves? Quite a few captains have passed away in the past couple of years due to health problems that might have been prevented by a ­simple health test.

The sad part is most of us get a physical only when we renew our captain’s license every five years. We think that’s enough to give us a clean bill of health. And what about the rest of our crew? We think we are invincible when we are young, and we know without a doubt that none of those ailments will ever happen to us.

And just FYI, that rudimentary ­captain’s physical doesn’t even include a blood test. It’s sad, but we fail to realize that a blood test is similar to an oil sample: The inexpensive test can give us an indication of any cancer markers, as well as tell us about our prostate health, possible low testosterone levels and many other things we should be keeping an eye on. One of those is our mercury levels, which can indicate whether we are eating too much fish with high levels of mercury. So just remember, that quick pinch in your arm that feels no different than a sabiki hook pricking your finger could save your life — come on!

And because we all like to eat a lot of fish, I know more and more people with very high mercury levels in their systems these days. The doctors blame it on all the raw tuna we eat, along with a few nice chunks of swordfish and tilefish too. And don’t forget about when they pass around those fish sticks in the Bahamas, Belize, Mexico or offshore hot spots; you never know what you are getting. It could be barracuda, giant grouper or big hogfish — all species that are known to carry ciguatera. That is how I caught it, and I know quite a few other fishermen who got it too. It’s not something you want to “catch” because there is no cure, and the doctors really don’t know much about it.

There is also that darn sun. It was very cool to be tan back in the old days, and according to doctors, they say the damage to our skin was already done from our early days of surfing and fishing. However, today we have some of the best sunwear ever made compared with the very “short” Sportíf shorts we all used to wear — without a shirt too. Today, we also have some of the best sunscreen, and we are even allowed to have it on the boat and in the cockpit. That’s a stark contrast between the old Sea and Ski of the ’70s that used to stain the cushions that we were always told by the captain to look for and throw out if a charter or guest brought it aboard. But despite the new trends in sun care, we all really should see a dermatologist once a year too because of the great tools to detect ­melanoma in its earliest stages.

Many of my friends my age are battling some sort of cancer today, and Butch Cox’s recent letter in Marlin about his bout with prostate cancer was a perfect example of someone dealing with it right now. I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that most of my friends who died at a young age could have had a great chance of living with us if they had just had a blood test done once a year, so be a real friend and insist your friends check their health. It’s just like sending off an oil sample: The early detection could save their life to keep them around for a few more years. I miss you, captains Johnny Uhr, Rick Ogle, Doug Haigh, Larry Whithal and many more!