If you fall out of a boat without a life jacket, “sink or swim” is not a metaphor.
A combination of hard work and pure luck saved two boaters off the southern tip of Florida this weekend, when they fell out of their boat and had to tread the cold ocean water for 14 hours, until a passing boat spotted and rescued them.
Sean McGovern, 50, of Key Largo, Fla., and Mellisa Morris, 52, who was visiting from Texas, were boating on a 30-foot craft off the coast of Key Largo when they fell into the water at the same time, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Such accidents sometimes happen, which is why many boats are equipped with flotation devices and emergency homing beacons.
But McGovern and Morris, adrift from their boat, had neither, so they began to tread water, the Coast Guard said.
The pair continued to tread water from about 6 p.m. Friday into the night, and well into Saturday morning, without having anything to signal for help, officials said.
By a stroke of luck, around 7:30 or 8 a.m., an off-duty police detective and an off-duty firefighter spotted the pair floating in the water about 10 miles off the coast of Hallandale Beach, a northern Miami suburb, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney told the Los Angeles Times.
By then, they had been floating about 14 hours.
“It’s hard enough to see people in the water, because mainly you see them from their shoulders up,” Barney said, noting the pair’s lack of emergency devices. “I would definitely say that (their discovery) was luck.”
The detective and the firefighter pulled McGovern and Morris out of the water, and the firefighter examined them as rescuers called officials for help, Barney said.
After 14 hours of drifting, Barney said, “What they had was a very mild case of hypothermia, and I believe the male had several jellyfish stings as well, and they were in beginning stages of dehydration.”
Barney said he had no information on whether the pair were hospitalized after they were brought to a Coast Guard facility in Fort Lauderdale. McGovern and Morris could not be reached for comment.
Their boat ended up drifting ashore to a beach on Fort Lauderdale, carried there by the currents, Barney said.