The use of personal flotation devices, presence of mind and a knowledgeable and alert network of guardians all helped seven distressed boaters to survive boating accidents in September.

The use of personal flotation devices, presence of mind and a knowledgeable and alert network of guardians all helped seven distressed boaters to survive boating accidents in September.

On Saturday, Sept. 8, Officer Percy Cook of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) responded to a vessel in distress at East Pass. Robert “Bob” Hoelzle of Tallahassee phoned 911 to report that his 16 foot open boat was taking on water and sinking fast. Winds were out of the southwest at 20 knots with seas of four to six feet.

As Cook launched his vessel alone, Hoelzle phoned 911 again and said his boat had capsized, and he was now adrift in the water wearing a blue personal floatation device.

Cook arrived on scene offshore and began a search grid. Cook located the Hoetzle quickly and pulled him from the rough seas to the safety of the patrol vessel. Search and rescue was executed without air support in extremely rough sea conditions.

Hoelzle was participating alone in a speckled trout fishing tournament out of Lanark Village at the time of the accident. When his boat began to take on water, he tried unsuccessfully to drain it, then his motor quit. He had a cell phone with him in a plastic bag and called 911. When the boat capsized he was able to crawl onto the hull and called for help a second time but the boat rolled in the high seas and his phone was lost.

FWC Public Information Coordinator Stan Kirkland said if Hoetzle had been swept out through East Pass and there was any time lapse, it would have greatly diminished the odds of him being located.

At the time of this printing, Hoetzle’s boat had not been located.

In a Sept. 10 email, FWC Lt. Charlie Woods congratulated Cook on his efficient, quick response to the emergency.

In an unrelated incident, the Coast Guard rescued six people from the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 25 miles from Carrabelle on Saturday, Sept.15.

At approximately 4:30 a.m., watch standers at Coast Guard Sector Mobile, Ala., received a call from 43-foot vessel “Dirty Pool” reporting that she was taking on water.

The vessel had launched from Carrabelle at 7:30 p.m., Friday, with six people aboard for a dive trip. Shortly after the initial notification, Sector Mobile received two automatic notifications from Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) in the vicinity of the Dirty Pool’s reported location.

Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and crew and located the six individuals in the water 25 miles offshore. Lt. John Raulston and Lt Christian Gintyrapp were the pilots on the Jayhawk.

In a telephone interview, Raulston said they had some difficulty in locating the stranded men in spite of the fact that the six had followed good safety procedures and had the correct equipment.

Raulston and Gintyrapp used GPS coordinates broadcast by the EPIRBS to travel to the scene of the accident but cold locate no debris field or sign of the fishermen. They then went to a search area developed by Section Mobile and began searching in a grid. Once again, they found nothing. While Section Mobile worked to develop another area, Raulston and Gintyrapp returned to the original coordinates where they spotted the boaters in a circle around a cooler. The group used marine signal flares to alert the Coast Guard crew to their location. All six people were wearing life jackets.

Raulston said he initially thought they were in a raft because their flotation devices formed an orange circle.

A rescue swimmer was dispatched and he determined that, except for one man suffering from seasickness and dehydration, the men were unharmed.

Raulston said he believed they had grabbed the wrong cooler when leaving the boat. The one they had brought with them contained bait and so there was nothing to eat or drink and they had to be very careful not to let any of the bait go into the water lest it attract sharks.

Chief Petty Officer Brenda Doris, a search and rescue coordinator at Sector Mobile said, “The rescued crew members demonstrated exceptional preparedness, greatly expediting our recovery efforts. This serves as a reminder to all mariners that preparedness and proper safety gear are critical.”

The men told Raulston one of them woke up at about 5 a.m. to the sound of splashing water. He discovered the boat was going down and woke his friends. They barely had time to grab the cooler, flotation devices and two emergency kits containing EPIRBS before the Dirty Pool sank completely.

The aircrew transported the six men to emergency medical service personnel waiting at the Apalachicola Regional Airport. All six people were able to walk off the aircraft unassisted.

The Coast Guard recommends that mariners wear a properly fitting Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times while underway.

According to the Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Statistics 2011 report of the 533 people across the nation who drowned in recreational boating accidents in 2011, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket.

Kirkland stressed the importance of communications devices when on the water. He said rescuers have to calculate the location of distressed boaters based on the tide and that can be difficult. He recommends recreational boaters carry two communications devices in addition to a cell phone. VHF radio does not function if the battery becomes wet. An additional device like and EPIRBS mentioned above or pocket locator beacon can provide a location to rescuers during an emergency. Both are water resistant and communicate via satellite. The signal from an activated PLB or EPIRB is routed directly to the Coast Guard so they can contact the appropriate state agency or respond directly to the call for help within minutes of the distress signal.

EPIRBS and PLB are now available on a daily rental basis at some marinas.

The SPOT satellite messenger is another option. This device constantly updates GPS coordinates and allows the user to transmit them to friends, family or rescuers.

Kirkland said locating distressed individuals in the water in a timely fashion “Becomes all the more important in winter, as the water temperature drops. Hypothermia will kill you in a short period of time.”

Raulston said, “I would say follow their example to other boaters. They did a very good job in terms of safety procedures.”