UPDATE: Dec. 18, 1 p.m. – The owner of a local marine propulsion company said the boat was found early Tuesday morning around 2 a.m. approximately 20 ft. off Salt Spring Island, upside down. Crews are currently working to turn the vessel right side up and bring it ashore in order to “minimize the environmental impact.”
A man who was rescued from his sinking boat Monday evening is lucky to be alive after what emergency crews are calling a close call.
At approximately 6:30 p.m. a mayday call came into the Coast Guard from the boater saying his 24-foot aluminum vessel had started to take on water.
At the same time, the Coastal Celebration, a BC Ferries vessel, was minutes from docking at Swartz Bay having left Tsawwassen at 5 p.m. and was dispatched to the area just off Moresby Island.
“The vessel was sinking,” said Deborah Marshall, executive director of public affairs for BC Ferries. “By the time we got to him, he was basically standing on the tip of the boat.”
The captain of the ferry maneuvered the ship to block the wind while a crew of three launched a zodiac rescue boat to reach the lone occupant of the now almost completely submerged boat.
“It was like the Titanic with the end of the boat up in the air,” said Debbie Wiecke, who, travelling with a friend, watched from the window of the ferry.
“You could see that they had lit up the water all around the boat. It’s amazing how bright those lights are,” she said. “Not a minute later, he would have been in the water.”
Wiecke said BC Ferries staff kept passengers calm and secure moving them to one end of the boat, making regular announcements keeping them briefed on the situation.
Because high winds had created rough waters, the crew had trouble bringing the zodiac up so the Coastal Celebration escorted the rescue boat to shore with the cold, wet boater in tow.
Marshall confirmed the ferry docked in Swartz Bay around 7:20 p.m. while the zodiac proceeded to the nearby government dock where emergency personnel met the four men.
“These type of situations, they put our crew at risk,” Marshall said. “It was a blustery night even to be out on a ferry let alone to launch a boat and perform a rescue.”
Since Friday, BC Ferries has cancelled a host of sailings on multiple routes due to stormy weather.
Environment Canada had issued weather advisories throughout the weekend with some residents reporting on social media they could feel their homes shaking in the high winds and torrential rains.
Raising a sunken boat, meanwhile, is the owner’s responsibility, said Michelle Imbeau, communications advisor with the Coast Guard.
With a small boat, the immediate concern for environmental impact is generally the leaking of fuel, releasing hydrocarbons.
“If a vessel sunk it is [the owner’s] responsibility to try to raise the vessel,” Imbeau said, adding the Coast Guard works with boaters providing options and monitoring action.
On Monday evening the Coast Guard stood down once BC Ferries reached the scene.
“It’s interesting,” Imbeau said, “on the water everyone tends to lend a hand when someone is in trouble.”