Picture this: It’s first thing in the morning and I’m topside looking out over Bonefish Bay in Bimini, Bahamas. Bimini is a short 50 or so miles from the Florida coast and attracts a lot of fishermen from mainland U.S. looking for bonefish. My fly rod has already been loaded with an extra 50 yards of backing in anticipation of their famous 100-plus yards of run. In the middle of all my dreaming and waiting on the tide to change, I see a Hatteras boat coming up the channel like a drunken sailor. I mean, he’s all over the place and in danger of hitting docks or running aground.
With a lot of assistance, the boat is eventually tied up on the outer dock and I go back to my coffee and anticipating my day, and it is a great day. Mud flat bonefishing is a fantastic side quest from off-shore fishing.
Well after dark, the owner of the Hatteras is on the dock fuming into his phone. He obviously has mechanical problems that include not being able to steer the boat and hasn’t had a great day. I introduced myself and asked what the problem was. He informed me that he has lost his port side engine and hydraulic steering. This explained his drunken sailor approach to the dock. Manually steering a Hatteras of that size with its twin, 6-foot rudders is a Herculean task.
Loss of steering is the most dangerous event on a boat. If you can’t control the course of the boat, you are truly in a fix.
As I see it, the real problem is not the steering, engine, or the fact that things break. The real problem is that this captain owns a boat and has sailed offshore without any of the even rudimentary tools or working knowledge of his shipboard systems needed to get home again. Onboard fires can be put out, holes in a hull can be plugged, motor problems can be dealt with, but loss of steering is the most dangerous event on a boat. If you can’t control the course of the boat, you are truly in a fix. Very few boats have an alternative steering system.
Diesel engines are fairly straightforward and problems almost always point to a malfunction in the fuel delivery. I dragged my tools over and in short order we found a stuck relay in his emergency fuel cutoff line. Once repaired, the port engine roared to life and his hydraulic steering was restored.
He was irritated that for the money he spent on that boat, it did not have a redundant steering system on the other motor. Correcting that would be his first order of business after getting his picture taken with a huge bonefish on the line.
Having paid a lot of money for your boat will not exempt you from equipment failures out here. I knew an old English teacher whose admonishment was, “It’s all there once you’re aware.” So the question is how many possible equipment failures are you aware of on your boat? How many possible redundant systems or solutions do you have for trip ending failures?