Fisherman fell overboard 37 miles from NC shore — and his boat drove off without him

·2 min read

A fisherman who fell overboard trolling off the North Carolina coast was saved Monday after his boat drove off without him, officials said.

The captainless vessel nearly plowed into his rescuers — a father and son fishing near Wrightsville Beach, said Captain Ryan Saporito of Sea Tow. The fisherman, meanwhile, was treading water 37 miles from shore for almost an hour before they found him.

“He got extremely lucky here these guys were fishing where they were,” Saporito said.

The man, who was not identified, was fishing by himself on a 23-foot Parker boat when he fell off, Saporito told McClatchy News. He was trolling at the time, meaning the boat was moving forward and dragging lures behind it.

Saporito said the man slipped on the boat’s deck, tripped and fell overboard. He wasn’t wearing his engine cut-off switch (ECOS) lanyard, also known as a “kill switch,” which would have prevented the boat from driving off without him.

“Most people don’t wear that when you’re fishing — it’s a cord, you need to be mobile,” Saporito said. “I’m really not surprised that it happened.”

The fisherman also may not have been wearing a life jacket, WECT reported.

His empty boat, meanwhile, got close to a father and son who were fishing, prompting them to blow their horn a couple of times. That’s when they realized no one was on board.

Saporito said the pair managed to pull alongside the empty boat, board it and shut down the engine.

They radioed Sea Tow around noon about the abandoned vessel and a captain was dispatched around 12:15. The father and son, meanwhile, used the boat’s navigation system to retrace its route.

About 45 minutes later, Saporito said the pair found the fisherman treading water not far from where he fell in. A Sea Tow captain was about 15 miles from shore when they heard he’d been found and turned around.

The fisherman reportedly did not require medical attention.

“He was just tired,” Saporito told McClatchy News. “They said he was cramping up some and helped him drive the boat back in.”

Saporito said engine cut-offs are important for these exact scenarios. As of April 1, federal law requires recreational vessels less than 26 feet long to use the engine cut-off switch and associated link, according to the Coast Guard.

Saporito said Sea Tow crews wear a wireless kill switch that gives them up to 50 feet of mobility while working.

“I know they’re cumbersome with the traditional way they were always installed with a cord,” he said. “But the wireless ones — they’re invaluable, they really are.”

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