A pair of fishermen who were lost at sea for two days put their lives at risk by being ill-prepared and lacking basic navigational skills, an accident report has found.
Jim Reid, 75, and his grandson David Irvine, 35, quickly became disorientated after setting off from Gourdon Harbour in foggy conditions in small open fishing boat Water-Rail last May.
A major search and rescue operation was launched, but after two days the search was stood down and the Inverbervie men’s family were informed they were probably lost at sea.
However, the men were alive, surviving on a bottle of water and biscuits, before being spotted by a passing trawler 44 nautical miles off the coast of Montrose.
A damning report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch said the decision to proceed to sea in foggy conditions was “ill-judged and almost cost the skipper and his grandson their lives”.
It said skipper Mr Reid “did not have the equipment or competence necessary to navigate the vessel safely in the prevailing conditions”.
The report noted the boat’s compass was not permanently fixed to the vessel and loose in a home-made lead-lined wooden box, which would not have provided any magnetic shielding and would have been subject to deviation errors.
Mr Reid had completed the minimum safety training required by the Small Fishing Vessels Code of Practice but had not completed navigational training.
It added: “He had minimal knowledge of navigation practices and no interest in electronic navigation aids.
“Despite routinely working at sea in a registered fishing boat for three years, his grandson had received no training whatsoever.”
Responding to the report’s criticism, Mr Reid insisted a weather report had indicated a thick fog was due to lift.
“I object to them saying I can’t read a compass,” he said.“I’ve been fishing between Inverbervie and Gourdon 50-odd years I have kept a compass all my life.
“It was the forecast that was wrong, not me.”
The report also found that Mr Reid had purchased a waterproof, handheld VHF radio to pass the minimum safety requirements however, this was in a box in his house with a flat battery.
The pair also had not taken their mobile phones out to sea when they departed Gourdon at 4.30am on May 20, so were unable to broadcast a distress message.
The 16ft boat had quickly run off course in thick fog leading to a major search and rescue operation involving several coastguard teams and a helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth after the alarm was raised by Mr Reid’s wife at 11.30am.
It was estimated that Water-Rail had enough fuel for a range of between 30 and 40 nautical miles. The search covered five nautical miles out to sea on the first day and 30 miles out to sea on the second day.
The men were found on their third morning at sea by deep sea trawler Sylvia Bowers, at 7.30am on May 22, much further from shore.
The report added: “Water-Rail carried significantly more fuel than estimated and was capable of motoring much further than the vessel’s range used in the search planning.
“Regardless of the amount of fuel carried, the suggestion that a skipper would proceed so far out to sea in such a small boat was almost inconceivable.”
The men were then transferred to a RNLI lifeboat and taken to Montrose Harbour where they were reunited with their families.