I want to continue providing valuable information before the launch of the boating and fishing season in Michigan. For those of you lucky enough to be in warmer weather, the lessons learned in this article are timeless.
What was meant to be a recreational fishing trip for NFL player Marquis Cooper and three of his buddies turned into a nightmare for them and their families after the 21-foot boat they were in capsized in Florida waters. Was this vessel and her occupants doomed for tragedy from the beginning? Details have been slow to emerge, but some evidence indicates some key safety precautions were overlooked.
The story begins as a recreational fishing trip off the Florida Gulf Coast for four young, strong, athletic men on Saturday, February 28, 2009. Heading out around 6:30a.m., they enjoy a day of fishing in the ocean. Sometime around 5:30pm, the group has trouble with an anchor stuck in a coral reef; the boat capsizes. Approximately forty-six hours later, one man is found clinging to the boat, the rest of his friends having disappeared—one at a time—into the vast ocean, as time and hope elapsed.
Arguably, the men took some responsible precautions: they were out fishing in a group; life jackets were on board; everyone had their cell phones with them; weather reports were consulted. Unfortunately, the sea is unpredictable, and no matter how experienced you are with her mystique, she can always surprise you. Marquis Cooper was not inexperienced; he heeded weather warnings for Sunday. However, he was not as prepared for the unexpected as he might have been.
News articles report that Rebekah Cooper, wife of the boat owner Marquis Cooper, was not worried about her husband and his friends until he failed to call home late Saturday night. She was apparently unaware of an estimated return time for this boating expedition. Consequently, according to other reports, the Coast Guard was not notified until the next day and did not start their search for the vessel until 2:00p.m. Sunday afternoon—nearly twenty-one hours after the boat capsized. The time from Saturday evening to Sunday afternoon may have cost lives.
The Coast Guard also reports no SOS signal was ever received from Cooper’s vessel. A recent news article suggests that a friend had recommended the purchase of an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) just days before Cooper’s final fishing trip. For only a few hundred dollars, this life-saving piece of equipment could have been purchased and placed on board, making the location of the boat and its passengers much easier to determine for rescue crews.
To date, EPIRBs are not required equipment for water vessels; it is left to the discretion of the boat owner or operator. A simple law requiring every water vessel to have a working EPIRB on board could save many lives. Additionally, requiring boats to register their trips before going out to sea could also aid in rescue efforts. These trip registers could include the names of those on board, expected time of return to dock, coordinates for approximate fishing locations (if applicable), and emergency contact numbers.
Unfortunately, this fishing tale had a tragic ending. A few simple and inexpensive changes in boating safety requirements could have meant the difference between life and death for Marquis and his two friends—and could save countless lives in the future.