Coast Guard issues Boyce report
Details of the July 4 drowning of fisherman Richard “Dick” Boyce have emerged in a recently released investigation report from the U.S. Coast Guard.
Boyce fell from his commercial fishing boat, the Eleanor S., around 5 a.m. July 4 while gillnet fishing near Mab Island, about 45 miles south of Haines. His daughter and deckhand Karen Boyce was the only other person aboard at the time.
Coast Guard investigators determined factors leading to Boyce’s fall overboard included a lack of safety lines alongside the vessel and slick hatch covers. The boat had no deck rails on either side of the vessel, and lacked any type of non-skid material on the decking.
According to the report, Boyce’s family indicated he was not a strong swimmer, but that he was aware of his limitations and wore a personal flotation device (PFD) during inclement weather.
Because of the good weather that day, Boyce was not wearing a PFD when he fell overboard, which “directly contributed in his inability to stay afloat once he entered the water,” according to the report.
Conditions on July 4 were good for that time of year. Wind speeds were at 10 knots, and tidal current was at two knots with no wave swell. Air temperature was 49 degrees; water, 45.
Boyce and Karen had anchored for the night near Mab Island and awoke around 4:15 a.m. to raise anchor and head for their first set location, about 0.8 miles from Mab Island’s south end. They arrived around 5 a.m. and disconnected from the net upon setting it, but soon realized it was bunching up and so hooked back up to drag it out.
After hooking up the net to the stern cleat, Karen was at the starboard quarter in the cockpit. Boyce was inside the house operating the throttles. At 5:10, Karen heard her father yell, ‘Shit, tie off the net,’ as the current was setting the boat back into the net. Boyce then ran out of the cabin, across the deck to the port side, where the flush deck met the well deck.
Karen heard her father yell, and saw his arms fly into the air as he fell overboard. He was wearing jeans, a cotton button-up shirt, Xtratuf boots, rain suit bibs and a lightweight jacket when he went into the water.
When Karen ran to the port side, she saw her father in the water and heard him call her name. Karen attempted to grab her father when he bobbed up, but she was unable to reach him.
Boyce yelled for Karen to cut the engine power, as the throttles were still in reverse. Karen ran inside the cabin and placed the throttles in neutral. When she emerged from the cabin, Boyce had floated to the bow of the boat.
Karen retrieved the ring buoy from the top of the pilot house and returned to port side, but by this time Boyce had “floated some distance away from the vessel.” Karen threw the ring buoy toward her father, but it did not land near him.
Realizing her father would not be able to reach the life ring, Karen “began to scream, jump, and wave her arms in an attempt to attract the attention of a vessel nearby.” When this failed, she returned to the cabin and made a series of mayday calls on the VHF radio. Boyce had been in the water for three minutes.
When Karen returned outside, she had lost sight of her father.
A family friend and member of the fishing group heard Karen’s call, but determined a fish tender was closer and requested the tender keep a lookout for Boyce while he proceeded to the Eleanor S. to assist. Karen attempted to maneuver the vessel to relocate her father, but soon discovered the net had fouled the vessel’s propeller. When the friend arrived, the two were able to clear the propeller and begin the return to Haines.
The report said Karen “took every action possible to retrieve her father subsequent to his fall overboard, including the use of life saving devices and calls for assistance” and that her actions conformed to recognized man-overboard procedures.