Fisherman fell overboard 37 miles off the North Carolina shore – and his boat left without him

A fisherman who fell overboard while dragging off the coast of North Carolina was rescued Monday after his boat left without him, officials said.

The captainless vessel nearly crashed into its rescuers – a father and son fishing near Wrightsville Beach, Sea Tow Captain Ryan Saporito said. The fisherman, meanwhile, trod the water 37 miles from shore for nearly an hour before finding him.

“He was very lucky here, these guys were fishing where they were”, Saporito said.

The man, who has not been identified, was fishing alone on a 23-foot Parker boat when he fell, Saporito told McClatchy News. He was fishing at the time, meaning the boat was moving forward and dragging decoys behind him.

Saporito said the man slipped on the deck of the boat, tripped and fell overboard. He was not wearing his engine cut-out (ECOS) lanyard, also known as a “kill switch,” which would have prevented the boat from starting without him.

“Most people don’t wear this when you’re fishing – it’s a cordon, you have to be mobile,” Saporito said. “I’m really not surprised that this has happened.”

The fisherman can also not having worn a life jacket, reported WECT.

His empty boat, meanwhile, approached a father and son who were fishing, prompting them to sound the horn several times. It was then that they realized that no one was on board.

Saporito said the couple managed to get close to the empty boat, board and shut down the engine.

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

About 45 minutes later, Saporito said the couple found the fisherman walking on the water not far from where he fell. A Sea Tow captain was about 15 miles from shore when they learned he had been found and turned around.

The fisherman would not have required medical attention.

“He was just tired,” Saporito told McClatchy News. “They said he had cramps and helped him get the boat back inside.”

Saporito said engine outages are important for these specific scenarios. As of April 1, federal law requires pleasure craft less than 26 feet in length to use the engine stop 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 are bulky with the traditional way they were always installed with a cord,” he said. “But wireless – they’re invaluable, they really are.”

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