Dredge Crew Assists In Rescue Of Family Stranded Offshore Near Jacksonville, Fla.

A family of six—two parents and four children—were traveling in their 17-foot pleasure craft February 26 near the St. May’s jetties, just offshore of the border between the east coasts of Florida and Georgia, when their vessel hit something submerged and began taking on water.

In the frightening moments as the boat began to sink, one of the children aboard the vessel was able to get a call through to 911. The young person was able to communicate to the dispatcher with the Nassau County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office that the boat was sinking. Then, the call dropped.

One of the family members transfers from the Coast Guard Cutter Sea Dragon to the sheriff's office vessel, prior to heading back ashore.  (Photo courtesy of Nassau County Sheriff's Office)
One of the family members transfers from the Coast Guard Cutter Sea Dragon to the sheriff’s office vessel, prior to heading back ashore. (Photo courtesy of Nassau County Sheriff’s Office)

Around the same time, the Wolf River, a Great Lakes Dredge & Dock crew boat operating in support of the hopper dredge Padre Island, had gone out to the Padre Island to transfer chief engineers. En route back ashore, Wolf River Captain Wayne Marston noticed some debris scattered across the water. As the Wolf River got closer to the debris, Marston saw the family in the water, arms waving in an attempt to get his attention. Marston quickly radioed the Padre Island and asked the crew to hail an inbound U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the Sea Dragon.

Deckhand Randy Culpepper and Padre Island Chief Engineer Oscar Palacios took action, keeping the family in view and assisting Marston as he steered the Wolf River toward the family. The Wolf River crew used life rings and a Markus man overboard rescue net to help the family board the crew boat. 

“The parents were given sweaters, and the kids were brought inside to warm up with a space heater,” Great Lakes Site Engineer Cole Thomas wrote in a report of the incident.

Palacios, a 16-year veteran with GLDD, said the crew’s safety training helped them know just what to do in the situation, which was crucial given that the family, with slow movements and chattering teeth, were feeling the effects of hypothermia.

“We knew what to do,” Palacios said. “We knew what steps to take.”

Palacios said he and Culpepper reassured the family with “We got you” and “You’ll be safe” as they moved into position. Palacios told GLDD officials the situation, and especially the children’s expressions when they knew they were safe, really made a big impact on him. The mother in particular, Palacios and Culpepper said, was exhausted.

“We saved six lives, and we owe it to Great Lakes training,” Palacios said.

In short order, the Sea Dragon was on the scene, with the family transferred aboard that vessel. Later, a vessel with the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office took the family ashore. The sheriff’s office also towed the family’s vessel ashore.

Ashley Spicer, public information officer with the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, said it’s unknown what exactly the family’s vessel struck, but they were in the vicinity of the jetties. She praised the quick action of the GLDD crew boat crew, the Coast Guard and the sheriff’s office officials involved in the rescue.

“It was a blessing that boat was in the area,” Spicer said of the Wolf River.