Always be prepared

Published 9:53 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2017

For Brian Sawyer and Joe Johnston, a harrowing experience on the water on Sunday evening was proof of the need for safety awareness, solid planning and the ability to improvise when the best-laid plans go astray.

The men were celebrating Father’s Day at Sawyer’s uncle’s home on North Shore Drive in Suffolk, when they decided at about 6:30 p.m., to take their jet skis for a ride to the Monitor Merrimac Bridge Tunnel. By the time all was said and done, both the U.S. Coast Guard and the Suffolk Department of Fire and Rescue had launched search operations for them.

Things began to unravel for the men when one of the jet skis began sputtering as if it was out of fuel and then cut off. Then a tow rope they used to pull the malfunctioning machine with the good one repeatedly broke. Neither man had a phone with him, and they were forced to beach the machines on the riverbank by the old Tidewater Community College campus, where they found a better rope for towing.


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Even the best plans sometimes fail. Being flexible and using a little ingenuity can help one overcome those momentary setbacks.

For Sawyer and Johnston, though, the setbacks would keep coming. When the second jet ski ran out of gas, they siphoned gas from the first machine to the second, but they were unable to get either machine running again. Fortunately, the water was warm, and they were both wearing their life jackets, so they began swimming, towing the jet skis behind them, headed for the boat ramp they remembered at the old Bennett’s Creek Restaurant and Marina.

But that ramp is no longer there, and they were forced to tie the machines up and hike over to the nearby Farm Fresh, where they finally found a man who let them use the last 1 percent of his cellphone battery to call family members, who by now were worried and had called for search parties.

Things could have been much worse for the pair — if the water had been colder, if they had not been wearing life jackets, if they had not been good swimmers. “We just kept working and trying to minimize all the risks,” Sawyer said.

Their ordeal is a lesson in what can go wrong in the water. Thankfully, it was not a catastrophic lesson, and it’s one that the rest of us who enjoy time on the water can learn from.

Always use proper safety equipment. Make sure someone knows where you’re headed and when you’re expected back. Always be prepared for things to go wrong. Don’t panic when it does. And always be ready to improvise.