Key Safety Tips for the Upcoming Season

By Captain Ralph Wilkins

With the coldest winter in years almost behind us, we start thinking about warmer weather, our boats, bent rods and giant tuna screaming the reels. For many years the St. Patrick’s Day Corned Beef and Cabbage dinner has been my seasonal alarm clock ringing in thoughts that the warmer days of spring and summer are getting closer day by day for all of us. Last month’s column we discussed the possible results and concerns of this extremely cold winter. Let’s just be hopeful we don’t get the monsoons of rain like last spring.

For most of us, the tarps will be coming off our boats now and launch dates will be secured. On a more important note, this is primetime for a complete evaluation of the integrity and safety of our boats. We rely on our boats to take us out and back from the fishing grounds and on most days this happens without an event. Fishing commercially or just for recreation, we all share the same risks and dangers any day we untie the lines from the dock, power up our motors and head towards the fishing grounds.

While our boats are on land, it’s a great time to take a look at the exterior hull, all its thru hull fittings, stress cracks, keels, props, bearings and exhausts. I actually had a scenario many years ago with a stress crack in the bow of my previous tuna boat, a 25-footer. I saw it on land during the haul out but ignored it, and then one morning on the way out to Jeffrey’s Ledge it opened up and I took on lots of seawater and almost sunk. Then, as I tried to call the Coast Guard, the marine radio failed to transmit on channel 16, the emergency frequency. What a perfect scenario for panic, but as we all know “panic” is the nail for your coffin at sea. Fortunately, I was a boy scout as a kid and learned to BE PREPARED. I did have a backup radio ready to install quickly with the identical clips for power and antenna, so the swap went smoothly and we were able to make the mayday call.

While the Kennebunk emergency fireboat responded to the mayday and headed my way with pumps, we bailed water, trimmed up the motors and started heading towards land. The end of my story is a good one; we did make it into the Kennebunk River where the people at Performance Marine immediately hauled the boat out to discover the same little and hardly noticeable stress crack had opened up and was a serious structural defect.

The lesson learned here is to take a close look at our vessels now, bow to stern, topside and below deck, use our imaginations of what possibly could go wrong, and fix it. Be diligent in the spring to confront ALL the issues we may see with our vessels that may compromise our safety at sea. Even more importantly, prepare for an event as if it may be a life threatening situation and make sure you have a plan and know and understand what the priorities are, in order to safely return your crew and guests back to land safely! Two of everything is my motto; it will help to ensure that you get home from every trip safely!

Good luck, be safe and be prepared!

Who's taller? This hefty Dorado or his pint-sized captor?
Who’s taller? This hefty Dorado or his pint-sized captor?
It takes fisherman of all sizes to catch a sizable swordfish.
It takes fisherman of all sizes to catch a sizable swordfish.

Ralph Wilkins Headshot Ralph Wilkins is a contributing editor for Coastal Angler Magazine. Wilkins is captain  of the Odysea and popular cast member of National Geographic Channel’s hit television  show Wicked Tuna. Email Captain Ralph at, visit his website  at and be sure to like “Captain Ralph Wilkins” on Facebook.