Two Fishermen Rescued at Sea in the Caribbean

Blue water fishermen have all had the dream. Really, it’s a nightmare scenario. Your boat runs out of gas, your radio doesn’t work or your engine fails. Suddenly, your fishing trip has turned into a survival situation.

That scenario happened to a pair of U.S. Virgin Islands fishermen on Sunday, when according to a report from the Virgin Islands Daily News, their 12-foot dinghy ran out of fuel off the coast of St. Thomas after departing the white, sandy beaches of Coki Bay on the northeast side of the island. Stranded 14-nautical miles from the island, the fishermen were able to reach the outside world with a cell-phone, though that situation is not ideal.

The U.S. Coast Guard recommends keeping a VHF radio and handheld GPS on board. Cell-phone coverage in the Caribbean is hit-and-miss at best. And across North America, cell coverage is generally technologically limited to within 5-10 miles of shore. However, in this case, the cell-phone was the fishermen’s saving grace.

At 1:57 a.m., on Sunday, the dingy was spotted by a Coast Guard HC-144 search plane which dropped the stranded fishermen a radio package. Shortly thereafter, the cavalry arrived in the form of a rescue helicopter and swimmer that lifted the men to safety.

USCG HC-144 source: USCG.
USCG HC-144 source: USCG.

These men were lucky. According to the report, the Coast Guard credits their survival with staying in their boat and keeping their life jackets on.

“The primary reasons that this case was so successful were that the survivors stayed with their vessel, and also had the required safety equipment on board,” Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Lampe said in a written statement. “Our helicopter crew was able to spot the boat from a distance of nearly eight nautical miles because of a simple strobe light, and the hoisting evolution went very smoothly because both men were wearing their life jackets.”

While staying in your boat and keeping a life jacket on are critical steps to take after an accident, the Coast Guard also offers tips and help for preventing accidents.

Coast Guard certified boating safety courses are available around the country, as are free, courtesy vessel safety checks provided by Coast Guard and Auxiliary Coast Guard members. Meteorological information is also available on VHF radios through NOAA. You can find a list of frequencies for weather information here.