Two 14-year old boys are missing at sea from a fishing trip. As I watched this story, I felt that I had no choice but to weigh in on this tragedy. My experience with a scenario like this one takes me back to my Coast Guard days and a long couple of weeks with Chesterfield Fire & EMS. The two periods that I referenced dealt a tragedy with two men who were declared missing in the Pamlico Sound, while the second involved two teenagers who lost their lives in Swift Creek Reservoir after their canoe capsized. Some may say that these cases are comparing-apples-to-oranges different from one another, but I beg to differ.
The Coast Guard and the Navy are searching a grid the size of Maine. It was stated that these two boys were supposed to stay close to the inlet. The boys were reported to have put $110 worth of fuel in their boat. I just watched an online news report which stated that sea conditions were worsening and that, while boats were racing to get into the inlet, one fisherman saw a small boat going out with two young boys aboard.
The boat these boys were in was 19 feet long. The boys were reported missing on Friday, and on Sunday the Coast Guard found their boat overturned, 67 miles east of the inlet. The parents are holding out all hope that the boys will be found. The case that I spoke about in the Pamlico Sound involved two older men who got caught in a freak windstorm. These men were reported missing on Friday, and we would not find them until Sunday afternoon. Both men were wearing life jackets but still drowned in the 15-foot seas stirred by 40-knot winds.
I have seen storms at sea cause ocean-worthy and -ready vessels to be disabled and get adrift, with some even going to the bottom. The fact that these boys were at sea in stormy conditions in a 19-foot boat speaks of their inexperience and lack of maturity. Even if conditions had been perfect, they were in too small a boat with too small a motor to be offshore. I will even give them the benefit of a doubt and say that the boat was outfitted with all of the necessary safety equipment. I would hope that they had a marine radio on this boat, but I have not heard that these boys made a mayday call. Chances are that this boat was not ready for a journey at sea, especially in rough conditions.
I made a journey about 18 months ago in a 42-foot boat we transported from Savannah, GA, to Virginia Beach. Besides the equipment that was already on the boat, we had borrowed a satellite phone, a six-person raft, a set of charts and an elaborate flare kit – all of this for an ocean journey, where the farthest point offshore was when we rounded the outer diamond shoals buoy. On that journey, we experienced dense fog, one breaking inlet and rough conditions while going around diamond shoals. This journey involved five men with a pretty decent plan. There is a problem when two teenagers can get into a 19-foot boat, fill it with fuel and head out to sea.
I heard one person call one of these teenagers an “old salt.” I beg to differ. Old salts get that title because they have lived on the ocean, learning from their mistakes and having respect for the sea and weather. Teenagers believe themselves to be invincible and must therefore be handled with a short leash. In other words, parents must know their whereabouts at all times. May we never give anyone 13 to 17 years of age the benefit of a doubt that they have all the answers. You and I were teenagers once, too.