Please do not enter any boat without a lifejacket
Updated: Sep 20, 2019
I feel lucky to be here. It all started at 6:30am, I was fishing 300 hundred metres offshore from Burrill Lake near Ulladulla Bombora. I had just finished two drifts and caught two nice snappers approximately 500mm long. Using my iPhone, I face timed my wife and grandson the snapper I had just caught. After I hung up, I decided to do the same drift at the same spot, so I turned the boat off, jumped out of the driver’s seat to go to the back seat and without any notice, the boat tipped vertically, the whole motor end was in the water and then the whole boat flipped over, throwing me under water.
I swam out from under the boat and hung onto the bow that was just out of the water. The sea around me was only one-meter swells, I knew it wasn’t a wave that turned the boat over.
In that moment I decided to let go and try to swim 2 or 300 metres to the bombora. Once I got to the bombora, it was a matter of survival to get up on it. I couldn’t scramble up on the sea side, so I swam around to the other side. After multiple laborious attempts I still couldn’t get up. My right knee was giving me trouble again, as I can’t fully bend it due to a previous knee replacement surgery. Wearing only a singlet, shorts and Marlin inflatable life jacket, the waves were continually bashing me against the sharp rocks slicing my skin open everywhere.
I finally managed to get on to the rocky reef and hoped someone would see me from the sky. This moment was short lived because as soon as I sat down, a wave came and crashed over me, rolling me all over and throwing me back into the sea like a washing machine. I was bleeding everywhere.
I thought Far out! This is it! I was exhausted, and I remembered that I’d just spoken to my wife, son and grandson. I thought I might never see my family again. I said to myself “star swimming” and as soon I started swimming I felt something at my massively cut left foot. I just said to myself “Don’t look down just keep swimming” fearing it might be a shark. If it was one, I’d rather not know. I repeated to myself, “don’t stop swimming.” I swam freestyle then breaststroke, swapping over. I continued until I was too buggered and stopped to see if I was making progress. I could see that I was making ground, still talking to myself, I said “if I want to live, DO NOT stop at all. If you stop, you’ll die” that was my way of making it back. I looked at the shore and I said to myself two more hours and I’ll make it. After what seemed like endless hours trying to keep my breathing in order, I thought one more hour to go “you can do this.” I looked up to the sky, my dad and brother, it was like they were saying “you can do this, keep going bud.” My toes were absolutely killing me by this stage, they felt frozen and started to cramp. Despite this pain, I just kept on swimming, when I realized I was closer to the beach, the waves finally dumped me one after another, I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t get out of the water. I scrambled on my stomach out of the water to the rocks on Racecourse Beach Ulladulla, not knowing that I had three broken ribs.
I collapsed on the rocks, I put myself into the coma position with my life jacket as a pillow, after yelling “HELP, HELP” not very loudly or to visible help… My fight wasn’t over yet. I tried to stand up which took forever but staggered and shifted slowly up the beach approximately 400 metres. I saw finally the marine boat and then the Westpac helicopter. I totally collapsed on the beach with that last image in my eyes.
For every fisher person out there, I’m one bloke that respects the ocean.
I’ve said to other fishermen and locals; my boat must’ve capsized because a whale had gone under it.
If it wasn’t for my Marlin’s lifejacket - I wouldn’t be here.
Please do not enter any boat without a lifejacket.
Josh incredible survival story
On 9/3/18 just after the sun had come up I fell off of my Haines Hunter V17L whilst it was underway in the ocean. I was fishing alone.
I had just turned south (away from shore) and traveled for some time at 30knts and then slowed to an idle maybe 2knts. I had planned to troll for the day hoping to get onto some Kingfish or Tuna.
I had 1 rod in my hand which I was running out the back with a skirted lure on. I noticed that the second rod was standing in my rod holder blocking the side rod holder used for trolling, I grabbed the second rod and for some reason decided to also deploy this second lure at the same time.
With 2 rods in my hand leaning on the rear left gunnel I lost my balance landing upside down in the water with my rods in my hand. When falling all I remember was trying to grab the rail at the back of my boat.
I threw the rods and began to swim as hard as I could towards the boat. I don’t know how long I swam towards the boat for but it now only feels like 10 seconds for some reason but I think it was more.
With the boat underway and travelling away from me I remember my shoes were the first thing that I thought were slowing me down and soon realized that I was losing distance on the boat. It was so hard to swim with clothes on I deployed my lifejacket which helped me stay afloat and continued to swim before stopping and running out of breath.
My first thought that this wasn’t real, a surreal feeling, I can still feel and see that moment in my head, seeing my boat travel off in front of me, I think I even spoke to myself saying “this isn’t real no no no.”
After floating there again for I’m not sure how long I remember talking to myself saying “what are you going to do, what are you going to do.” Knowing my phone was on the boat and I couldn’t call for help.
As I spun around looking at the shore and how far away it was, spinning back looking at my boat wishing it to turn in a circle and looking for other boats I soon realized what I was in for.
I was floating in the ocean and realized that no one was going to save me and that it was me that had to save myself.
I initially decided to swim towards a boat that was trolling in a WSW direction as I thought I could raise them to come and get me then get my boat.
I began to swim and remembered how much of a drag my shoes were so I took them off and my socks, I was surprised to see them float up in front of me for some reason.
I continued to swim towards the boat I don’t know how long this was but I realized that I wasn’t going to get any closer to them, this is when I began to become the most distraught. I was blowing on my whistle as hard as I could kicking to rise out of the water and waving my hands, I could see them easily why can’t you guys see me.
The thought went through my head, they will see me, they are trolling looking for bird action, at one point I thought I saw one of the men on the boat looking my way, this is when I put in the most effort of blowing on my whistle and kicking up out of the water
With all this effort I was quickly out of breath and exhausted. They did not see me. They were too far away.
Shortly after floating there I decided that I had to save myself and the only way to do that was swim for the shore, I began to swim survival backstroke and had picked out a landmark to swim for so I wouldn’t get off track making sure the sun was to my left and semi regularly turning over to make sure I was heading to the right spot making my swim the shortest.
I noticed that the moon was still out, I don’t know why I remember this.
Freestyle is difficult with a lifejacket on, survival backstroke being the best followed by sidestroke for a rest and breastroke as a third.
Every now and then I would stop and kick to get high to look around for boats.
The thoughts during the swim were many but at no time did I think I was going to die, I could rest if I needed to as my lifejacket would keep me afloat.
I talked to myself telling myself that I was going to make it when I had doubts in my mind, “you will make it” “its ok”.
At one stage I swum for a fair distance on my back because I remember turning around being surprised how close I was to the shore all of a sudden.
I saw another boat traveling between me and the shore, this was the second time I felt so helpless. I blew on my whistle and kicking up as high as I could to get their attention as they travelled through at about 25knts both looking ahead not seeing me and again.
I again had to make that conscious decision that it is only me that can save myself.
I finally made it far enough that I could start to wave to some surfers, they saw me, the relief I felt when I could see them paddling towards me is unexplainable, I had made it.
I knew they were coming so I turned to my back and continued to swim backwards. “hey what are you doing” I hear, I turned and grabbed the surfboard “I fell off my boat, I need help to get to shore”, “ok” was the response then silence for a moment (in hindsight I think they were shocked also to find me swimming towards them in a lifejacket).
I kept swimming one bloke saying “hey get on my board I will swim”. So I hopped on. I reluctantly removed my jacket as it was too hard to paddle on a surf board and have it on the same time.
Only a couple of other questions were asked
“Was it a tinnie”
“How did you fall off”
I was exhausted with my answers being no and I don’t know
Another bloke on the way in said “how long have you been swimming,” I said I don’t know and asked what time it is, he responded with “it’s just after 8”. I had been swimming for over 1.5hrs.
Something had happened I could barely paddle I was done my body knew I was safe.
I made it close to shore with the 2 surfers, it was rocky with reef sticking out, I stood up I had made it.
The surfer asked for his board back and the other gave me my lifejacket back, they both turned around to go back for a surf.
With them gone, it made me feel like I was all alone again floating in the ocean, I hadn’t made it yet. (I don’t blame the surfers for leaving me I think they were in shock themselves and didn’t realize the ordeal that I had been through).
I struggled to make it out of the waist deep water and onto the beach. I began to run, I remember how soft the sand was and realized how exhausted I was, I couldn’t run the whole way to the stairs I had to walk and barley jog in between, I didn’t feel like I had saved myself yet.
A man was at the top of the stairs, I yelled “have you got a mobile phone” he said yes and ran off. I started the climb, It felt like it took me forever to reach the top of the stairs. I sat on the bench at the top and the man returned with his phone I called 000 and said what had happened.
I called my wife and was maybe still in some sort of shock, all I can remember saying was I have fallen off my boat I made it to shore and need you to pick me up.
The bloke with the phone offered me towels and water which was great.
The water police called me and assured me what was going on, along with Head of coast watch saying the guys were on the way to save my boat.
The police arrived, they were great, they knew what to say and made me feel like I wasn’t there alone. They were really good put things in perspective.
The bloke with the phone was great he was a bit shocked too now I think of it but did a good job at making me feel safe.
I watched coastwatch go out and saw them get my boat which was reassuring.
During the swim it did not annoy me at all, it worked really well when I deployed, it felt good.
I did at some stage want to tighten it but only just a little maybe 1-2 cm but soon realized that this was too hard whilst in the water and I would have to take it off to do it. I have always had my lifejacket fitting well whilst on the boat, I usually even have to loosen and tighten it when I put on or take off a jumper and for this I am thankful as in hindsight it undoubtedly saved my life.
I wouldn’t have been able to swim over an hour and a half without it on, not a chance, it saved my life.