Whether you call it fishing or angling in your part of the world, if you live in the tropics one of the most stimulating all-year-round pastimes is deep sea fishing. Whether you have your own boat, or whether you will be chartering, there are a few basic rules that need to be followed to ensure that your trip is a safe one.
Deep sea fishing is a different beast to an angling trip to a river or a lake. When you are away from land and possibly out of sight of any other boats on the ocean, safety becomes a critically important issue. Here are eight tips that will help you to ensure that your trip is a trouble-free one and your day on the water is enjoyable and memorable.
1. Service Motors Beforehand
Aside from weather-related issues, the most common reason that offshore anglers get into trouble is a broken-down outboard motor whilst out on the ocean. Charter operators always travel with two motors and it’s highly advisable for you to do the same if you have your own boat. That way if one breaks down and can’t be fixed on the water, you can get home with the other.
But preventing a breakdown in the first place is a better option, and the way to do that is to ensure that your motors are regularly serviced, and if you haven’t been out on the open water for a while, get them checked by a mechanic before leaving on a new trip, if you are not mechanically minded yourself.
If you are using a boat with an inboard motor, it’s not advisable to undertake ocean travel without someone on board who has sufficient knowledge to fix basic problems. Most skippers of offshore charter boats with inboard motors either have mechanical knowledge or have a crew member with it. In any event, it’s recommended to carry a small outboard motor for emergencies when on boats with inboard motors.
2. Safety Equipment Audit
Carrying out an audit using a checklist of the safety equipment on the boat should be standard practice before every open water trip. In some countries there may be specific rules on what items should be carried on an ocean fishing trip, whilst in others it’s left to the discretion of the charter operator or skipper.
The number of life jackets to be carried must be no less than the number of persons on board, even if all are strong swimmers, and the straps and fittings on the life jackets or other personal flotation devices should be checked to ensure they are in good order.
All flares should be checked individually to ensure that none have expired, and the onboard marine radios tested before the day of departure. As well as the audit of safety equipment, the actual boat should be checked over for any issues that might impact safety such as cracks or loose fittings.
3. Prepare Trip Plan
Before any trip out on the ocean where you will be leaving sight of land, you should prepare and lodge a trip plan (or float plan as it’s called in some countries) with the local coastguard or marine authorities. If you have your own boat and normally moor it at a marina, then it’s likely that the marina will have standard procedures in place for that. If you are chartering, your boat skipper will organize it.
The purpose of an offshore trip plan is to ensure that someone knows who is out on the water, where you are intending to go, and what time you are expected back. That way if you haven’t returned by your expected trip completion time and haven’t radioed to advise that you are on your way, someone can try making contact with you to check that all is well.
Trip plans have saved many lives when boats have broken down or become disabled for other reasons out on the open ocean. They are especially important in less densely populated regions or in countries where there no helicopter rescue services regularly patrolling coastlines
4. Extra Drinking Water
Another checklist that is worth having is one for the food and beverages required for the trip. That way if you are leaving early morning when the mind might still be a little groggy, you won’t forget anything important. Ensure there are some high energy emergency rations included on the list.
The most important item for a deep sea fishing trip in the tropics is water. You’ll need to carry three times the amount of drinking water as is normally recommended for ocean fishing trips in more temperate climates. That’s because, firstly, consumption will be about twice normal because of the hot weather, and secondly, you should have at least a third of the water in reserve in case of delays getting home.
If food reserves get low, hopefully there will be fish onboard that can be eaten, but adequate drinking water is essential to avoid dehydration in hot and humid conditions. Dehydration is the biggest danger when out on the water in tropical weather and can lead to impaired judgment as well as damage to internal organs.
5. Monitor Weather Forecasts
It’s assumed you’ve been monitoring weather forecasts prior to the trip, but it is especially important to check them on the morning of departure for any low pressure activity that might lead to storms developing whilst you are out on the water.
Never leave shore if there are any warnings of possible hurricanes, typhoons or cyclones, because even if these don’t fully develop, there is a high likelihood that the weather will turn stormy. In the eventuality of unexpected storms – which is a common occurrence in the tropics – you should have backup plans for diverting to a sheltered anchorage if you can’t return to your home base.
If you do have to divert, then don’t forget to radio whoever is holding your trip plan to inform them of your delayed return. When you are out on the water, set a timer on your phone or watch to remind you to check the weather forecast every two hours to keep up to date with the changing weather conditions.
6. Clothing and Footwear
You’ll probably have your own preferences about what you want to wear out on the ocean, and it’s a given that what you wear should be cool, comfortable and provide protection from the sun. But there are a couple of things that you should always pack for safety reasons.
The first is a wide-brimmed hat. That’s not only to keep your head cool to prevent heatstroke in the tropics, but to protect your ears and neck from sunburn. When out on the water with a sea breeze blowing, it can be deceiving as to how hot the sun is. A baseball cap might look cooler, but without a wide-brimmed hat you are guaranteed to suffer sunburn on your ears and neck by the end of the day. The top of the ears is often where skin cancers start.
For the same reason, long sleeved shirts are safer than short-sleeved ones, even though the latter might be cooler. And sturdy footwear is essential to prevent you stepping on hooks or knives and ending up with a bloodied foot. If you don’t want to wear enclosed footwear, invest in a pair of leather sandals, but remember to wash them as soon as you get home to remove the salt.
7. Extra Sun Protection
In the tropics the sun is much stronger than in higher latitudes and your risk of getting sunburnt is extremely high. As well as dressing to prevent sunburn, you’ll need a supply of sunscreen with an SPF rating of 50+ and apply it every two hours.
Out on the ocean you will be getting not only the direct sun, but rays reflected off the water which increases your exposure to the sun’s UV rays. If you are splashed with water, you should reapply the sunscreen immediately you have dried off, even if the brand you have bought claims to be water resistant.
And don’t forget your sunglasses. They not only help to protect your eyes from the sun, they can prevent a nasty injury from a flying hook. Use them with an eyewear lanyard around the back of the neck to prevent them being lost if they get knocked off when fighting a fish. The lanyards are called neck cords or glasses straps in some countries.
8. Watch Your Back
Cuts from fishing knives and burns from fishing lines are common minor injuries among deep sea anglers, but occasionally they can suffer back injuries from hauling in big fighting fish. There is nothing more painful than heading back to home base to see a doctor on a bumpy ocean after injuring your back.
If your boat is equipped with a fighting chair for reeling in big fish, then use that in preference to a leaning post or fighting the fish from the edge of the deck. The chair enables you to swivel in the direction of the fish, thus keeping the rod and your back in a straight line to the fish. It also enables you to take the force of the fish pulling away in your legs, rather than your back.
If the boat is not equipped with a chair for hauling in the bigger game fish, or someone else is already using it when you discover a fish on your hook, then the key thing to remember is not to bend or swivel your back. Keep straight on to the fish by moving your feet and haul the fish in by bending at the knees and then straightening the legs when you feel the pressure on the line easing.
Take heed of these eight basic safety tips and you’ll have the best chance of coming home with no more than tired arms and legs from landing some big fish. They are simple tips to follow but can make all the difference between a great day out on the ocean or a disastrous one.