Runaway speed boat, Man overboard, and Sailboat rescue!

I haven’t been posting much lately. I have done some canoeing, but not any kayaking. I joined a sailing club on Lake Murray, SC. at the end of May. I have been spending my on water time mostly sailing my Potter 19 together with friends sailing their boats. What follows is my account and my friends account from Last Tuesday of an unmanned Sheriff’s Department boat at very high speed circling our 2 sailboats, and pulling the Sheriff’s deputy out of the lake. I am posting a few Photos and my account and friends account of the incident.

Clint and his 7-year-old daughter Annabelle and l were to meet me at the Lake Murray Sailing Club about 10 AM. I was there a bit earlier to work on my boat. We were on the water before 11. My Nissan 5hp wasn’t pumping water so I sailed away from the dock after paddling out and turning the bow toward open water. Clint wasn’t far behind. We were headed to Susan Ebert Island as Annabelle wanted to swim and explore. They had sailed by it in the past, and today she wanted to stop there.

We had good winds running from 5 to 10+. I forgot to use my chinstrap so had to do a man/hat overboard drill. Frist pass was just out of reach. Second pass I over compensated and it went under the boat. Third try I reached over the side and plucked it from the water. So glad it floats. I learned that the hard way.

We were windward from the Island and planned to go around to be in the lee to beach our Potters. (I like that the Potter 19 can be easily beached.) We saw a sheriff’s patrol boat speeding toward us and it circled behind us headed away and turned to come back, we figured we would be checked when we both noticed there was no one at the wheel.

Both our boats were inside the orbit of this speeding runaway boat about the same size as a Potter 19.The wind was causing the orbiting boat to slowly bring one side of the arc closer to us. By the third time it circled us we realized that we had to head toward the closest arc to break free. It is a bit unnerving to watch an unmanned boat come speeding toward you as you sail out of it’s orbit. It passed maybe 60 feet behind my stern.

Once free of the danger posed by this runaway, I called out on channel 16 that there was an unmanned speed boat running wild, but got no response. I notice a yellow object ahead of me then realized a man’s head was part of the equation. I called out I would pick him up. As I passed, I grabbed his hand, and spilled air from the main sail. he grabbed the rail with his other hand and tried to board put failed. I told him I had a boarding ladder at the stern and pulled him around to it. He came aboard then.

He said he owed me. I said it’s what you do, and didn’t owe me a thing. He asked to use my radio, but got no response then asked for my cell phone. He called his dispatcher, and then a friend with a boat on the lake. He wanted me to try and get him back to his runaway. The last thing I was going to do was get near that boat. He said he was worried it might hit someone, and I realized we had watched it circle us and our run to safety. I said it was going to run aground on the island soon. I didn’t say this could have been avoided if he and attached the kill switch to himself. He was visibly rattled. I said I could put him on the island if he wanted to check on his boat. He agreed.

The runaway disappeared around the point of the island, and didn’t reappear I suspected it had grounded. We saw a white motor boat head behind the island and a pontoon passed us headed there too. About then the boat with his friend showed up, and I transferred him to their boat.

Clint radioed me that Annabelle wanted to head back to the club dock, and I said I would too. We discussed this when we got back. Annabelle was wearing her life vest, Clint put his on. I always wear mine since I started sea kayaking years ago. I keep a whistle, a waterproof radio, a knife, a camera and a monocular in the pockets or attached to it. I will also start carrying my cellphone in a waterproof case.

You never know what may happen do you when you launch a boat to
sail. I am sure glad I don’t have to explain this to my boss.

Hi folks, this is Clint. I wrote up this incident as it happened aboard Kana. When it was all said and done, I was grateful, chastened and recommitted to safe sailing.

My story:

What follows is a long story about a harrowing incident and narrowly avoided tragedy on Lake Murray today.

Annabelle and I met my friend Doug, a fellow Potter 19 sailor, at the lake, and we went for a sail, Doug in Stargazer, Annabelle and I in Kana. Winds were brisk and steady; it was great sailing and we were out of the cove and into open water quickly.

Doug was off my starboard quarter, and I saw a large boat moving FAST approaching from port. As the boat drew closer, I saw it was a Lexington County Sherrif’s Deputy boat. The boat swung toward us, pulled away and made a large circling turn. I didn’t catch sight of the deputy, but assumed we passed whatever inspection he had in mind. I breathed a little sigh of relief, because moments before we launched, I realized my registration had expired.

Though the boat moved away, the arc of its turn brought it around again, and I started thinking about the conversation he might want to have about expired registrations. On this pass the boat came much closer to us, never slowing at all. And this time, I could see that though the boat was under power, no one was aboard. A large out of control boat was circling, and we had wandered into its chaotic path. The only pattern was that the boat was circling to port, but chop and wind were pushing the circles all over that part of the lake.

Annabelle was in the cockpit with me, wearing her pfd, and mine was nearby, but I wasn’t wearing it. I yelled to Doug that the boat was unmanned, and as I did, it made its third circling turn, sweeping past us, then turning straight toward us, approaching from the stern. I estimate the boat was moving at around 40 mph. Fast and big.

I sent Annabelle to the V berth in the cabin to get her as far from the stern as possible, and by now she was sobbing and terrified. I had slipped on my pfd by this time and was watching the boat bearing down on us from behind. The wind was coming from starboard and I was close hauled, with plenty of room to maneuver to port, but very little to starboard, which was where I needed to be able to go.

I was looking for the boat to make it’s turn to port, and in disbelief, saw it smack some chop and jog to starboard, straight at us. The boat was close when this happened, maybe 20 yards away, and just flying straight at us. I had just enough steerage to swing us slightly to starboard and the boat roared past us on the port side, making another turn. Doug and I both pointed our boats as high as we could, I sheeted in the main and jib and we got out of the way of the boat as fast as we could…which, in a Potter 19, in the wind we had today, was about 5 knots. 5 knots can actually feel pretty fast in sailboat.

Today, 5 knots felt like a snail crawling through molasses.

Things took another turn when, as we were pulling away, we both spotted a man wearing a bright yellow pfd swimming in the water, and we sailed toward him. It was the deputy, uninjured thankfully. Annabelle was still watching the boat circling, and was still sobbing, terrified that it would come back toward us, which still seemed very possible. Doug was able to sail up to the deputy and get him aboard Stargazer, while we all continued to sail away from the circling boat.

Finally, the boat circled around an island, and ran aground, which we heard, but couldn’t see. Annabelle came back up to the cockpit with me, let out a loud raspberry at the boat and collapsed against me. I called 911, hailed Stargazer on the VHF, and got the deputy, who was uninjured and asked me to kill the engine of his boat if I got to it first, which I had not the slightest intention of doing with Annabelle aboard. Apparently, he hadn’t heard the engine screaming, then dying when the boat ran aground, but Annabelle and I, who were farther from the island than Doug and the deputy, heard it clearly. And with great relief.

It was terrifying. And taught me some valuable lessons.

Number one: NEVER again will I or anyone aboard my boat sail without wearing a pfd. Ironclad, no exceptions. I’m a great swimmer AND that boat could have smashed into us on that first pass and if I survived, I would have been unable to help Annabelle, if she survived.

Number two: ALWAYS carry a fully charged VHF radio. Mine had not been aboard for months because I’ve grown accustomed to using my cell phone, which is a valuable tool, but is not a replacement for a VHF radio on a monitored frequency.

Number three: ALWAYS keep a throwable pfd in the cockpit, even a boat cushion with a whistle attached. Coiled line clipped to the strap is a good idea

Number four: hug the people you love and count your blessings every day.

My response follows

I knew you said Annabelle was upset. I didn’t know she was crying. I didn’t notice the boat impact because I was dealing with the upset deputies need to contact his office. Although I knew I no longer heard the boat after I saw it go behind the point, when I took the time to locate it again.

I couldn’t go to sleep right away last night so wrote this up with more detail, but managed to somehow delete my first draft. I started over with a more bare bones version and went to bed after midnight. your version captures how intense it was to have this boat tuning around us. I knew it came closer to you as we made our escape. Being close hauled left us little room to maneuver, and to head in any other direction would have kept us in potential harm’s way longer. When the deputy wanted me to intercept his boat, I said a sailboat isn’t as agile as a boat and motor nor would I have the speed to deal with his unmanned boat. His response was he knew nothing about sailing.

Heading down wind toward the shallows of the Island I asked him to raise the keel when I saw him spinning the winch handle, I said if it is that easy you aren’t raising the keel crank it the other way. When I returned to the dock my winch no longer locks with the keel up. So now I will have to crawl back into the coffin berth and try to figure out the problem. Lesson learned… don’t asked a rattled non sailor to help in any way! My bad!

I have two hand held VHFs and one boat mounted that came with my boat with a masthead antenna. One of my hand held did have a dead battery.

Wearing a PFD is a priority for me. I have read multiple analysis of kayaking disasters, as well as sailing ones. It makes you realize how quickly things can go wrong. One statistic on wearing a PFD that I found enlightening is that many men not wearing a PFD drown when they fall off their boat while urinating over the side. What a foolish way to go! Pun intended

My boat Star Gazer

Clint’s boat Kana


Transferring the deputy to his friends Boat.


He won’t be living that down at the office.


Thanks for sharing that story. Glad no one was hurt! At least you had decent winds or that could have been really interesting without a motor. I haven’t owned a sailboat in 6 years or so, but the Potter 19 would be very high on the list were I to go shopping.

Wow. Kudos to the good seamanship in avoiding the runaway. Sailboats aren’t the most agile of vessels.

Thanks for the great story. Curious how the deputy and his boat parted company.

I didn’t see him come out of the boat, nor did he explain. All he said was “I was thrown out of the boat.”
So what I am going to post next is speculation on my part, but looing back on things I think it plausible.

When the boat made the first pass around both our sailboats I believe he was on broad, but I was focused on trying to read the emblem on the side of the boat as it wasn’t the DNR game warden. I can’t say for sure because I didn’t look at the center console where he would be operating the boat. His boat was similar to the one in the photo that he transferred to from my sailboat. There definitely wasn’t anyone on the boat when it then started circling around us on it’s next pass.

What I remember is it made a sharp turn to port just off of up wind about 100+ yards out from us. I assume to come back and check us out. Where I found the deputy in the water was in the general upwind direction we sailed to safety. This was also in the general area of the sharp turn. I believe that’s when he was thrown from his boat. The direction the boat came from when it made it’s first turning high speed pass would have resulted in a larger wake as the boat turned. I think the timing and distance of the wake’s travel would approximately coincided with the point of the sharp turn. I think the force of turning sharply at high speed and hitting the wake probably bounced the boat throwing him out. That’s my best guess.

He was wearing an inflatable vest, but notice the two men in the boat that picked him up aren’t wearing a PFD… He didn’t have even a whistle let alone a radio or phone on him. Nor did he have the kill switch attached to him. If he did the motor would have shut off. Also It seems many boaters on the water have only two speeds, stopped and wide open. Most sea kayakers seem to have a greater awareness of safety practices on the water than those in high speed motor boats. At least it seems that way to me.


And Paddlers don’t usually take coolers of beer with them.

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I don’t allow beer in my bass boat either let alone kayaking.


Wow, that’s harrowing. So glad to hear everyone made it out alright. Hopefully the deputy learned a few things in the process…