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Boats at peril from crab traps

October 30, 2015
By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Know what happens when your 200 hp Yamaha with its prop spinning at 3,000 rpm hits a crab trap rope? At night?

Looking over the transom with the motor tilted up using your cell phone "flashlight" you'll soon get the ugly answer. If you're lucky only enough rope (3-5 turns) was wrapped around the prop to stop the engine. When the engine instantly stopped were you thrown around, or worse, out of the boat? If not you can be counted as lucky.

Not your day and you survived the collision, but to your amazement you may now see a rope, a float, and a wire cage completely encasing your prop and lower unit. It happens. I know and, of course, you're now dead in the water.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

Besides leaving your flashlight home and forgetting to renew that Sea Tow membership you suddenly realize you don't have a fillet knife on board or a set of substantial wire cutters.

If you did all you would have to do is jump over, knife in teeth, and try to hold onto the lower unit with one hand and cut away the rope with your legs dangling enticingly like two shark-sized Slim Jims in the inky blackness below you. Or, in shallow water where most shark attacks take place (especially at night), you could stand while you work as long as you don't stand on the stingrays.

Got it bad and the prop is covered by a bent up, tightly wound wire maze? Start trimming away the wire holding your prop and your ticket out of this no-see-um crabby nightmare.

Ok, so it was deep water. You jumped over. You had all the tools (yeah right). The prop is free. You're not bleeding with all limbs present and accounted for, it's time to go. Now let's hop back into the boat. Just pull yourself up into the boat. Hold on, I'm trying. Wet clothes, out of shape, disabilities? Good luck getting back into the boat tonight. Probably not happening.

Without a boarding ladder installed on your transom you could be in very serious trouble or at least be riding that lower unit all night till a friendly early morning crabber picks you up. Just say you fell over. Don't mention the trap. Remember now the goal is to get home to family and food.

Night anglers run a real risk with crab trap ropes. Even in the day a little chop and some white water can quickly obscure a white trap float. Often a boater will see a float at the last second and instinctively jerk the wheel to avoid the float while passengers go flying out of the boat or face/teeth first into something immovable in the boat's interior.

New boaters will notice crab trap floats along and sometimes mistakenly placed in marked channels presenting a challenge. I wish the FWC required some sort of reflective material be affixed to each float so as to at least have a chance of being illuminated somewhat at night by a boat's running lights. Wouldn't completely solve the problem but certainly might.

Don't speed and use a powerful beam to navigate waters at night if there is any question of crab floats. Always carry lights, knives, and wire cutters.

Ever try to back into a double ramp at night with one vehicle already in the ramp with its headlights shining brightly upwards into your rear view and side mirrors while the owner winches in his boat? You can't. You're blind. The other boater has shut down the ramp.

When backing down a ramp disconnect your trailer lights if desired, but at the very least show courtesy and turn off your headlights leaving your parking lights on for safety and allowing others to use the ramp as well.

The offshore fleet is looking for good weather while inshore fishing for reds and snook is hot.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or, or



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