When the anchor rope got caught in the propeller of his motor in a fast current — leading the boat to flip back on top of him — experienced boater Garret Wong thought he was going to die.
Now he says the experience was a wake-up call and he’s sharing his story to help others stay safe.
The accident happened on the Winnipeg River near Lac du Bonnet.
Wong and his son Nathan, 19, were about to try their luck fishing near the Highway 313 bridge, not far from the boat launch.
But when his son threw out the anchor, things went horribly wrong.
The fast current caused the anchor rope to wrap around the propeller, meaning his six-metre-long boat was anchored from the back of the engine.
“As most boaters know, you never, ever, ever anchor at the back. You always tie off at the bow because that’s what cuts the water through and that’s what’s safe,” Wong said.
Within 10 seconds, the boat started to sink into the river and fill with water.
“I had time to tell Nathan, ‘I think we’re going to sink,'” he said.
“I look back, and now my feet are completely underwater. Then all the things in the boat are starting to slide to the rear of the boat.”
‘This is it, right?’
The bow of the boat rose into the air and flipped over them, pushing Wong and his son into the water.
The force of the boat combined with the current pushed Wong deep into the river, filling his lungs with water.
“So now I’m struggling to breathe, and that’s literally when I thought, this is it, right?”
Then he heard his inflatable flotation device start to open. It took him back to the surface.
“And then, of course, my next thought is if I was underneath the boat, my goodness, my son’s underneath the boat and I couldn’t see him. I’m panicking.”
LISTEN | Garret Wong tells his story to draw attention to boat safety:
Information Radio – MB12:38He is an experienced boater, and calls himself a “safety freak” But things went wrong on a recent fishing trip near Lac Du Bonnet
Fortunately, his son surfaced first and was not far away from him.
Wong doesn’t think he would be alive today if he hadn’t worn his vest.
“I mean, I was on my last breath.”
Some Good Samaritans who were fishing in the same area helped get them out of the water. Emergency services were called.
Though Wong and his son were only in the water for a couple of minutes, they were already starting to experience hypothermia, he said.
“When I was in the ambulance … they measured my body temperature and it was already down to 34, and I was only in the water for two minutes,” he said.
“This is nine degree water. You’re thinking, well, that’s not that cold, right?”
Wong is a self-described safety freak who even carries extra engine parts with him, but the experience has made him even more cautious.
He used to let his passengers take their life-jackets off while anchored, but that won’t happen anymore.
That’s the main message he wants to get out: always have your life-jacket on.
“It’ll save your life.”
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