THREE Balnarring fishermen were lucky to survive hypothermia after being forced to swim 800 metres in freezing waters, 6pm Saturday (6 August).
The men, one in his 50s and two in their 30s, were fishing from their four metre dinghy when the anchor became snagged under rocks. The boat flipped when they tried to free it, throwing them into the dark water.
One of the men swam to shore to raise the alarm while the others initially stayed with the boat until help arrived.
The Police Air Wing helicopter, Hastings police, Hastings Coast Guard, water police and Volunteer Marine Rescue crews responded to the call for help.
Commander Jeremy West said a coast guard boat was already in the bay near Warneet helping another stranded boat and was on its way back to base when the call came through.
The crew followed the chopper’s directions to come alongside the submerged boat which “only had its bow sticking up out of the water” about 7pm, and towed it to Stony Point.
However, by that stage the two men, who had originally stayed with the boat, had also swum to Balnarring beach and returned to their house to warm up.
Commander West said that while this was a great outcome he was disappointed they had not called the authorities to say they were safe. As a result, the search was not called off until 11.30pm, by which time the men had been ashore several hours.
Commander West said weather conditions on Saturday night were calm but dark as there was no moon. The water temperature was eight degrees and the air temperature 11 degrees.
“The right thing to do is always to stay with your boat,” he said. “We were there in 20 minutes and it is safer to stay with a boat.”
Commander West said the low temperature meant “it only takes an hour before hypothermia comes knocking at your door”.
He said many fishermen sit out in the bay at night in freezing conditions without lights “as they want to save the battery”.
Commander West said the most recent boating fatality on Western Port was 12 months ago when a man fell overboard near Warneet.