The Dangers of Boat Fishing

Practicing good seamanship and being prepared can help you avoid the leading cause of recreational boating deaths.

Over the years, I‘ve heard quite a few sad stories about fly fishers being out on a large lake and their boat capsizing or getting swamped. Sorry to say more and more are capsizing these days with the loss of life.

Hate to say it but; more often than not, the cause of such boats to capsize is not the bad weather or rough waters, but simple accidents or carelessness and stupidity of the people in the boats. It‘s not the first time I‘ve been out on the water and seen some stupid antics and actions undertaken by the person on the rudder or the other person in the boat standing up and moving about when the boat is in motion at speed, then loosing their balance as the boat turns and nearly falling in or having a nasty fall in the boat.

For those who are not sure or inexperienced in using a boat when out on the water. There is a difference between capsizing and swamping a boat. Swamping refers to when a boat remains upright, but takes on water, and capsizing is when a boat turns over in the water. Both can be caused by several things—high waves, someone falling over, etc.

There are several measures you can take to keep your boat intact and yourself dry on the water. For starters, seats are there for a reason to be ―SAT ON‖. They‘re placed in areas where they won‘t shift the balance and where people can rest safely at high speeds. Do not sit on the gunwales, seatbacks, bow, or any other spot that will shift the weight dangerously, especially in a smaller boat and especially while the boat‘s moving.

Do not stand while the boat is moving, as a sudden bump or unexpected collision with a submerged object can not only launch a standing person from the boat, but someone standing makes an easier target for a wayward propeller if the prop brakes off during a collision. Remaining seated also keeps the center of gravity low while you‘re moving, which helps maintain balance. You can also add to this by not overloading the boat with gear and balancing the stowed gear evenly.

You can reduce your risk of capsizing by practicing good seamanship. That means don‘t overload the boat, learn to distribute gear and passengers evenly for greater stability, turn the boat at controlled speed(s), never anchor from the stern, and be alert for the wake and waves of other boats. If you encounter a large wave slow down and try to take it head on or at a slight angle. Don‘t try to power through.

Safe boating on any body of water means having the proper safety equipment and staying alert to changes in the weather.

Make extra life jackets, signaling devices and other emergency equipment part of a ―ditch bag‖ that you keep on board. Be sure that you and your passengers wear a life jacket at all times. If you boat far from shore, consider getting an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). These devices – many of them equipped with automatic releases and an internal GPS – can alert rescue personnel to your emergency and provide your precise location.

If your vessel does capsize, make sure everyone is accounted for and stays with the boat. Don‘t panic and try to swim for shore. A capsized vessel may recover on its own and most trailer-sized vessels will remain afloat, even when flooded or overturned. If your boat is small, try to turn it upright and bail it out. If you can‘t right your vessel, you and your passenger/s should try to get as much of yourselves as possible onto the hull. Never swim away from a capsized boat.

Keys to safety afloat

1. Lower your centre of gravity when crossing waves.

2. Ensure seats are properly fitted and can‘t slide off the gunnel.

3. Sit amidships when making passage across waves.

4. Wear your lifejacket outside clothing.

5. Self-inflating jackets are preferable to oral inflating – either due to cold, or, worse still, unconsciousness.

6. Don‘t carry your lifejacket into the boat, Wear It!


Lifejackets are becoming compulsory at more and more fisheries, many of them loaning them out. They are often abused and of ‗pull to inflate‘ styles. Many of us are fine swimmers and think them unnecessary. Consider what happens if you are knocked out as you fall overboard, or if you lose consciousness in cold, early season water. For this reason, I would advise the purchase of a self-inflating lifejacket which you can ensure is properly maintained.

To summarise, load your boat safely and evenly, don‘t go into or with the waves too fast. Take advice from those with experience – it will be freely given. Don‘t do as others do and compromise safety for the sake of another fish or two. There is always another day to enjoy your sport not a day for your family and friends to mourn.

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