ADDRESSING SAFETY IN COMPETITION IN TOUGH TIMES
When you grow up involved in sports as I have, risk isn’t something that gets thought about on a regular basis. But even at a very early age there were limits to what I was willing to do. Skydiving for example is something that if I have to do, I will. But it won’t be by choice!
Interestingly, competitive bass fishing causes many including myself to take risks that normally would be considered beyond safe. But because of improvements in boat manufacturing, pushing the envelope is more about putting too much trust in our equipment.
Our own recent loss made me think of Dale Earnhardt's accident and the push for better safety in NASCAR.And while there probably isn't a best time to address this topic after the loss of life at the recent Costa Series event on Lake Okeechobee, it may be the best time to look for preventative options. Boating accidents are not uncommon during tournaments but happen often enough that safety regulations should be put in place by major organizations so that when they do happen steps are in place to save lives.
My suggestions would be to look at the difference between how ocean vessels are required to have certain safety equipment in place because well it's an ocean and help isn't always easy to come by.
We have always been behind when it comes to big picture safety in bass fishing. A life jacket is the extent of what freshwater anglers believe they need to be considered safe. Having other fishing boats near by is often what anglers rely on when any incident occurs.
Because we now have anglers leaving freshwater launch areas heading out into the ocean as well as anglers traveling hours to fishing spots, safety measures are needed more than ever before.
We cannot wait for a wake up call or the aha moment to realize more could have been done.
I encourage BASS and FLW to begin requiring EPERBS be placed in all boats that activate upon submersion or ending up upside down as well as EPERBS on lifejackets. The busiest tournament season happens during winter months when water temps are near 50 degrees which makes response to these incidents time sensitive. Safety equipment can help immensly with this.
I also would encourage both organizations to loosen rules regarding anglers having access to weather radar apps that have alerts. When I am guiding this tool is a must to keep clients safe and alive. The same should go for tournament anglers.
Lastly, I would ask that the safety briefing prior to the tournament include emphasis on anglers understanding when to call the tournament director. If Anglers wait until they have a Loss of electrical power, propulsion or bilge pumps it's too late. It's too easy for us to think of the tournament and put the trolling motor down and keep fishing but the end result is not worth the risk.
Currently boats run with Power Poles or Talons. This means anglers no longer keep an anchor in the boat. When everything else fails a $25 anchor with the bow into the wind can be what saves a life and also should be required in every tournament boat.
As tournament anglers we have gotten very comfortable with expecting too much from our boats in bad weather because accidents rarely happen. But when they do it often results in near death experiences or loss of life.
Lets follow the lead of NASCAR and be innovative with safety rather than waiting until it's too late.