You never know when a slow day fishing will turn into a story you’ll be telling for years.
Take Ty Southerland and his new neighbor Chris Pace. Ty is a well-known fishing guide out of Rockport Texas, and host of the “30 Miles Out” fishing vlog. Chris had just moved in down the street and wanted to work on his fly-casting.
They chose a winter weekday after a cold front had blown through. There was hardly a soul on the water, and what few redfish they caught were more by accident than design. Then, coming home through the old Intracoastal Waterway, they spotted an out-of-control boat spinning circles in the channel. No one was at the helm.
Ty has spent a lifetime on the water, and knows that whenever a boat is turning donuts like that, its owner is likely in the water nearby—and could be in the path of the out-of-control vessel.
“Let’s go get him!” Ty yelled to Chris, who was at the helm of his 17-foot flats skiff.
Ty surveyed the scene for a moment, then spotted the boat’s owner backstroking to safety. Luckily, his inflatable life jacket had deployed. All this was recorded on the GoPro camera Ty uses to film the monster redfish and other quarry he pulls from the Gulf.
The camera was rolling as Ty reached the boat’s owner, Gerald Spencer. “Give me your hand,” he said. Once Ty was sure of his grip, Chris began pulling Gerald toward a nearby sandbar.
In the video, Ty asks him how he fell out of his boat.
“My drink fell off the counter,” Gerald answers, and you can almost hear the record-scratch sound as Ty stops the video to make an important point.
“I feel like this is a poignant moment, people,” he says in the voiceover. “Never look down while running! This fella looked down to grab his drink and got thrown out.”
Ty later posted the video to his YouTube page, where it racked up more than 33,000 views. News channels across the country picked up the video, sharing the lifelong fishing guide’s common-sense advice: “Look forward. Stay alert. Don’t look down or reach for anything, ever, while running a boat!” he says in the video.
When they reached the sandbar, Gerald was able to stand in the shallow water and step into Chris’s boat.
“You didn’t have your lanyard on?” Ty asks as he came aboard.
“No,” Gerald confesses. “I did not.”
Cue the record-screech again.
“Always wear that safety lanyard when you’re running in a boat,” Ty says in the video.
Since 2021, federal law requires operators of most boats under 26 feet to use an Engine Cut Off Switch (ECOS) when traveling at planning speed, and Texas passed a similar rule in 2019. It’s known as Kali’s Law, after a 16-year-old girl killed in a prop strike incident less than three miles from the spot where Gerald was bucked from his center console. But Ty doesn’t get into that legal nuance. He just tells us why boaters should always use a lanyard.
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“If you get thrown to the deck or thrown overboard, that wheel’s going to slam hard to one side, and that boat’s going to start doing donuts,” he explains. “If you’re still in the boat, you’re going to have trouble gaining control. If you’re overboard, you’re probably going to get hit.”
Unless, that is, you’re wearing an Engine Cut Off Switch (ECOS) lanyard. “If you jerk that switch, the engine quits and the chaos stops,” Ty says.
That wasn’t the case in the Conn Brown canal that day. Gerald was safe, but his boat was still running full-throttle, ripping donuts in the middle of the canal.
Gerald’s saving grace is that he was wearing his lifejacket. Even though the inflatable vest didn’t deploy completely—a reminder to check your CO2 cartridges regularly—it provided enough flotation to keep Gerald’s head above water and allowed him to swim clear of the runaway boat.
Without the life jacket, Gerald said, “I don’t think I’d have been able to swim fast enough to get away from that son of a gun.”
Once Gerald was safely aboard Chris’s skiff, Ty used his cell phone to alert local dispatchers. Then the trio backed away to watch Gerald’s boat from a safe distance. They could see it drifting closer to shallow water with every loop. Soon enough the center console rode up onto the bar, but the motor didn’t quit. It kept turning, kicking up sand.
Chris carefully approached the boat, and Ty was able to leap aboard and shut it down.
Later, back in the truck, Ty asked Chris what they learned that day.
“We learned to wear your lifejacket and wear your kill switch,” Chris says. “And don’t reach for your coffee if it falls on the ground.”