Terrifying boat accident turns tournament fisherman into boat safety spokesperson
“It was a horrific incident and it was life changing to be honest with you," he said. His safety checks made the difference between life an death.
A pro bass fisherman suffered a terrifying boat accident while in college. It was all caught on video. He says watching the video doesn't make him afraid of boating but proves how his safety checks saved him and convinced him to be the spokesperson for the 2023 Safe Boating Week Campaign.
Hunter Bland was 21 and said he felt invincible on a January morning during a college bass fishing tournament. He and his partner completed all the safety checks and were heading across the water, going 50 to 55 mph. When they were 2 miles out, his boat’s hydraulic steering blew.
"So it was definitely a horrific incident, and it was life-changing, to be honest with you," Bland told FOX Weather on Monday. "I was completely ejected from the boat, but that was my motivation, and that sparked my passion to make sure to keep the waterways safer."
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Trapped under the boat
Both he and his partner were thrown into the water. The video above shows just how fast that happened. He remembers being in the water and looking up at his boat.
"The boat does an absolute violent turn, so I can read the side of my wrap coming back over the top of my head," he recalls on the National Save Boating Council’s video. "I'm actually caught up underneath the boat, so I hit my head twice, and the third (time), I thought, ‘Well this is it, or I’m able to get out.’"
He struggled to get back to the surface, where he found his partner. They clung to each other and finally made it back to the boat.
He said the safety precautions they took, and the pre-trip checks were the difference between life and death.
"I did everything in my power right," he said. "And now I’m even taking further precautions."
Spokesperson for National Boat Safety Week
He wasn’t afraid to get back in the water. He is a Bassmaster Opens Pro and a member of the Yamaha Pro Fishing Team as well as the spokesperson for the National Safe Boating Council’s Safe Boating Campaign.
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Recently, Bland and his wife celebrated the birth of their daughter just two days after the sixth anniversary of the accident.
"So it just shows you the importance of wearing a life jacket and an engine cut-off switch to make sure we continue to create those great memories on the water," he said.
Wearing the life jacket or personal floatation device is key, not just having it on the boat.
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"I promise, you never know when you’ll need it, so make sure that everyone has a life jacket on during all water-related activities," he said on social media. "They only work when they are worn."
He also said always to wear the engine cutoff switch. Like Jet Ski, the tether automatically shuts off the engine if you are thrown away from the boat. He even checked the cutoff switch to ensure it worked the morning of his accident.
Go through a checklist before heading out on the boat, he encouraged.
"You know, we take our wallet and our keys and our phone with us every day," he said. "Let's make sure we have everything necessary for our boat or our vessel or our paddleboard."
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Tips to stay safe on the water this summer
Here is a checklist provided by the Safe Boating Campaign:
- Take a safe boating class
- Check your equipment – the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Power Squadrons offer free safety checks
- Check the weather
- Make a float plan detailing your itinerary and passenger list, and make sure someone onshore has it
- Wear a life jacket
- Use the engine cutoff switch; it’s the law
- Survival rain gear
- Flares – mandatory for most boats over 16 feet
- Whistle or horn – mandatory for boats over 40 feet
- Fire extinguisher – mandatory on recreational boats 2018 or newer
- Keep a lookout around you at all times
- Carry communication devices that work when wet like cell phones, VHF radios, emergency locator beacons
- No boating under the influence
The National Safe Boating Council shared some sobering statistics:
- Four out of every five recreational boating fatalities are drownings, according to the USCG. And 83% of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.
- Almost a quarter of reported boat accidents in 2020 were caused by operator inattention or an improper lookout.
- About a third of all recreational boating fatalities involve a BUI.
Have a safe and happy National Safe Boating Week and Memorial Day, heeding Bland's advice.