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Watch That Wake

Wakes from Big Vessels Can Sink Your Boat


We proved once again that fishing from a boat in a confined area can be dangerous if other boat traffic is in the area.

We were fishing from my flats boat in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), moving in and out of small creeks and oyster flats. We had caught several redfish and flounder and had moved to the main waterway to fish a stretch of shallower shoreline when it happened.

“It” would be the huge wake that was thrown by a passing boat – not just any boat, but a forty-foot yacht. The ICW is traveled by many large vessels, and all of them can throw a monster wake. Most of them slow for a smaller fishing boat, but lately I have noticed a trend that is changing that.

Three big boats in a row, all of them running at either a fast cruise or full speed came barreling down the waterway. The combination of all three of their wakes was heading my direction.

As with any wake or wave, I used my trolling motor to put the bow of the boat into the oncoming water. As the captains of all three vessels watched, I took water – a great deal of water – over the bow and into the cockpit of my boat. None of the boats even slowed. I was lucky – my boat is self bailing, and other than really tearing up my fishing spot, all I got was a little wet and a lot bounced.

The anglers in the boat about 500 yards from me were not so lucky. They were anchored and had no chance to get their small skiff pointed into those wakes. Their boat was swamped all the way to the gunnels.

I went to them and offered assistance, but they declined as they tried to get the skiff to the shallow water edge. I watched as they both exited the boat and began bailing water. Obviously, their day was ruined.

We all need to be aware of something here. As a boat captain, regardless of the size of your vessel, you are responsible for your wake. That includes any damages that occur as a result of your wake, regardless of whether you had “the right of way”. Many large vessel operators – I refuse to call them captains – are either unaware of this maritime law or they don’t care. They simply press onward as if the smaller vessels were not there.

The next time one bangs me around, I think I might just crank up and get the name of the vessel. A call to the Coast Guard on VHF channel 16 may seem futile, but it will make me feel better about it anyway.

If you operate a boat – any size boat – make sure you understand the rules. Even without the liability, it is only common courtesy to slow for a smaller vessel that is not underway.

If you are in one of those smaller vessels, you need to watch where you anchor or where you stop. You need to be aware of the destructive power of a steep wake from a larger vessel.

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