Risks of Backing Down Boat

Aggressive boat handling puts boat and angler in danger

boat handling
Aggressive boat handling happens too often.Dennis Friel

Marlin recently did an online photo contest of boats backing down. Some photos were just a big splash shooting upward against the transom, and others were pictures with cockpits full of water along with some drenched anglers and deckhands. I would hope to guess these boats were catching million-dollar fish or some kind of world record.

Or maybe it’s the result of this new age of catching as many fish as possible each day, and these boats were just catching small blue marlin on so-called 30-pound line. Maybe it was even a white marlin or a sailfish — but I sure hope these boats might have been fishing in a tournament backing down like that.

Also, what do the marine insurance executives think when seeing photos like this? I would guess they are asking the surveyors and boatbuilders what kind of exposures are created by this situation. So many things could go wrong …

And it recently hit too close to home when I was fishing in a ­sailfish tournament off Palm Beach, Florida. The seas were 5 to 8 feet, the wind was blowing about 20 knots out of the northeast, and it was cold, so I had on my full set of Grundéns. When I hooked a sailfish, the captain started to back down up-sea, and it wasn’t long before the cockpit was full of water. As the boat rocked, the water surged over to my side of the boat and lifted me up and almost over the side. It felt like the wave of water had caught my bibs and lifted me, even with my boots full of water! To be honest, in all my years fishing I don’t remember ever being in a cockpit with that much water. I felt very uncomfortable with the situation, and I thought the captain should have turned the boat around and chased the fish with the bow going into the sea.

Australia has some of the best boatmen (not just someone with a captain’s license) who fish one of the roughest places in the world. They also hook and fight some of the largest marlin you would even want to catch, but you don’t see them burying their boats into the seas, even when they are hooked into a fish of a lifetime for their paying charters. Don’t forget, those marlin may even have a price or a giant tip on their heads.

Back in my day, I was lucky enough to catch quite a few world records, and I can only remember a couple of times when we flooded the deck in our attempt to catch a marlin on super-light line — really the only reason that would justify this type of boat handling. We even designed the boat to handle this water and had the transom modified as well.

I wonder if boatbuilders take this aggressive driving into consideration? Most of them aren’t designing transoms that are any easier to back into a sea — yes, G&S did. But maybe some are ­seeing these pictures and ­making changes to their builds, because I have noticed the addition of watertight doors to the engine room from the cockpit on these bigger boats.

When charter boats catch fish, they actually take their time so their anglers can enjoy the experience of catching their first billfish. Meanwhile, a private owner’s novice guest ends up catching the fish in a few seconds because of the aggressive boat driving and then heads home wondering what they actually caught because the entire experience happened so fast. It’s sort of like having sex — don’t you want it to last for a while? Oftentimes, we assume the faster we catch the fish, the better chance that fish has to survive, even with a hook and leader trailing behind it. But that’s my next subject …

All I can suggest is to check all your bilge pumps and put an extra safety line on not only your reels but also your anglers and mates. Someone is going to get washed over real soon.