Friday, April 27 , 2018, 2:07 am | Fair 48º


Captain’s Log: Mayday! Mayday! Emergency at Sea


Things go wrong fast at sea, and it can turn deadly in a heartbeat. There was a case of this recently and a feller (best left unnamed) is lucky to be alive after he went on the rocks at the Channel Islands.

While fishing and sightseeing along the north (rough) side of the Channel Islands, a boater lost steering. He thought fast and tried to use an oar to steer with, but it didn’t work out so he had to cut his engine.

A set of big swells came up and put him on the rocks before he could even get out a mayday call on his radio. There are no cell phone sites on the islands, so his cell phone was of no help either.

He abandoned the boat and made it to a tiny cobblestone beach with a sheer cliff face that couldn’t be scaled and rocky points on both sides which couldn’t be walked around due to big waves.

He wisely piled up some rocks to get a few feet higher, but as the tide came in he was taking waves, and that is how he spent the night. Late the next day he was spotted and saved, but he knew how close he came to losing his life.

Those are the moments when we meet our maker. Those are also the moments when we think about what we can do differently and how to prepare.

One good thing to have is an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) which can guide emergency personnel to the unit.

Another thing to have is a ready-to-grab, waterproof ditch bag.

What should go into that ditch bag is a matter of great debate, and I’ve seen ditch bags that were cumbersome, but at the very least, they should contain bottled water, food bars, handheld VHF radio, a GPS unit (a cell phone will suffice) flashlight, flares, smoke signals and maybe hand warmers.

When you are able to make a mayday call, the number one and number two things you will need to convey is your location and nature of emergency. The latitude and longitude are critically important so that emergency personnel know where to come get you.

If your phone gets wet, it wont do you any good, so a backup handheld GPS device is a great addition to the ditch bag.

Even if you take to sea in a kayak, please consider a ditch bag that has just the necessities. Let’s stay alive out there!

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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