The four men and two boys were rescued and made it safely back to shore after their boat sank 10 miles offshore of Flagler Beach the morning of July 10, so this much they can laugh about now: after the 23-foot center-console fishing boat had rapidly taken on water and capsized, leaving its occupants barely enough time to put on their life jackets, Jason Arnett managed to pull out his phone and was desperate to try to reach his wife.
“We had sent that Mayday, ‘Hey, we’re going down, we’re going down,’ we never got a copy back from them because the boat went down so quick,” Arnett said of the Coast Guard. “At that time, I took my phone out of the bait bag. And I was trying to call my wife to tell her to call the Coast Guard and give her updated coordinates and whatnot. And when I tried to call her, I couldn’t. My phone was wet. My hands were wet. I couldn’t touch the screen on my phone. So it’s a little scary because I couldn’t make my phone work by touching it. And if I tried to push a number I’d push a different number, or it would push anything at all. So I was having Siri call her by voice. But she wasn’t answering.
“So I actually do home automation and smart homes for a living. And I have a smart home at my house. So the way I was able to get her up at 7 a.m. was, I logged into my smart home from my phone. And I blasted music. I mean I’m blasting music all across the house.” It was Pandora. It happened to be “The Humpty Dance.”
“That’s what I do when she’s not answering and it’s an emergency. Turn on music–never as loud as I did Saturday,” Arnett said. “I blasted it. My 17 year old son actually got up and was all mad because he got woke up. He just walked around to turn all the music off. But as soon as my wife heard it, she knew exactly what it was. And she called me back within 10 seconds.”
Fifteen minutes later, thanks to the lucky passage of another fishing boat, the Southern Chaos out of Bunnell, the six were rescued.
The music-blasting from ocean deeps was only one of the uncommon twists and fortunate turns in a relatively brief odyssey that could have ended in disaster, and on a day when an unrelated diver was lost at sea in the region.
But it didn’t, thanks to the level-headedness of the six people aboard the Kicking Back–including the two children, Michael Jr., 12, who’d been offshore many times, and Braden, 13 (his first time offshore), the sons of Capt. Mike Lamonica, who was on board and whose boat it was. Lamonica’s brother–in-law Eric and his friend Terry were also on board. No one panicked. Everyone focused.
The six had traveled out of the Matanzas inlet near 6 o’clock that morning to go fishing for snapper in the Flagler grounds between 9 and 12 miles offshore. Friday, Saturday and Sunday alone were open to snapper fishing in Atlantic waters. “Everyone was going out, and that’s really what we credit to being found so quickly because, there was just a lot of traffic out on the water that day,” Arnett, a 42-year-old businessman, said. He’d been fishing for five years, going out a handful of times a year, though he’s been boating his whole life, starting on freshwater.
So the Kicking back was cruising along and had gotten far enough offshore that the only thing the boaters could see of land was the top of the condos, if that.
“We were probably I’d say six miles to the destination, and all of a sudden, spun a prop up and lost all power to the vessel,” Lamonica, 40, said. “So I was like, alright guys, fishing is over with. We’re just going to go ahead and throw the anchor so we don’t drift.”
That was problem enough, but not catastrophic: at that point they thought they could anchor, radio for help, and wait. The water was choppy, two to three-foot waves at seven-second internals. Lamonica and Eric were working a tangle in the anchor rope for a few minutes when they noticed the boat was taking on water. That was not expected, and it’s still unexplained. Lamonica thinks maybe it was one of the scupper hoses coming off, but “that’s just speculating,” he said.
He had everyone put on their life vests. “They were very calm, that was pretty surprising, they did really well,” Lamonica said of everyone on the boat. “I mean, they know boating safety from me talking to them. We’ve really never talked about if water was going to come in the boat, or anything like that because not a million years I thought that would happen, you know what I mean?” He’d been boating since he was 4 and never had any incident remotely like that.
“From the time we lost propulsion to the time we realized we were starting to bring on water was only maybe two or three minutes,” Arnett said.
Even then, it didn’t seem entirely catastrophic. They got a pump going to keep the water out, Lamonica got on the radio with the Coast Guard, gave them his coordinates, told them how many people were on the boat, and they told him they were dispatching a boat to their location. The boat seemed to be doing OK, the pump was catching up enough to keep it steady. Arnett ripped apart a cooler to get its shell out and use it to scoop more water out. But then a wavelet or two crashed over the transom, not big, but enough to send water up to the center console.
“From the time the ocean started coming in over the top of that transom wall until the time the boat was completely flipped upside down and capsized was maybe 30 seconds to a minute,” Arnett said. “So at that point, I just yelled up front Get the kids off the boat, this thing’s going down, we’re gonna have to bail. He did a Mayday, dropped the radio and before you know it we were all in the water, the boat was flipped upside down. We never even got a confirmation that the Coast Guard heard that we were going down.”
“I told my youngest, I said jump overboard, he had his life vest on,” Lamonica said, as the others jumped off too. “Me and Eric were the last ones on the boat at that time and it started to list to the starboard side. I got on the radio, the last radio communication, and told Coast Guard I was going down and I was the last one to bail off the boat.”
The children, Arnett said, “were rock stars,” everyone holding it together, following directions, never complaining. They made sure to stay together and get as many people on top of the boat, maintaining the position. There was no fear: the focus was on priorities. “At this point, this is a life or death situation as a survival situation,” Arnett said. “If we make a mistake here, that is a life or death mistake. So just knowing there are kids on the boat, they were the priority, let’s make sure they’re safe, they’re in the best and most secure position that we have available, which is that upside down boat, so we got them up there, we got their father up there with them.”
But it was an open sea. No boats. Nothing but water.
Fear had no place just then. “At that point, you didn’t have time to sit around and get scared. It was, what’s the next move?” Arnett said. “It was more like what do I do to get through to the next step and you know, eventually, hopefully, getting picked up by somebody else and getting out of here. So I think we really didn’t have a lot of time for fear to set in. Honestly, it was almost like an adrenaline shock and survival mode where your mind or where your body and mind and everything are at. When I got home later that evening and I was laying in bed, I was looking at the video and looking at the pictures. And at that point, the fear and the magnitude of what we just went through really resonated with me a lot better after it was already said and done. But while it was happening, it was more of a, you know, I didn’t have time to be scared. It was more: What can I do to be safe?” (He has a new rule now: no more going offshore in a single-motor boat. It’ll have to have two.)
It was around then that Arnett played the Humpty Dance. The boat was floating, so Lamonica got his sons on the hull, and others held on. Terry, who is ex-military, had a GPS wristband, so he could read off coordinates, which he read to Arnett, who relayed them to his wife.
That went on for 15 to 20 minutes. Then it happened. “We saw a boat approaching from the north heading south,” Lamonica said. “So I said, everybody stand up, whoever can stand up and we’re waving. And finally we saw them start coming towards us.” For a moment there it seemed as if the boat was veering off. Arnett’s heart sank. He started thinking this could be one of those dashed hopes, like you see in movies. It wasn’t. The boat readjusted its course and headed on toward the six, when it became obvious they’d been spotted. The rescuers, who postponed their own snapper fishing, had heard about the Coast Guard call. The six sat on Southern Chaos until the Coast Guard boat arrived.
When the Coast Guard crew arrived, one of them gave a phone to one of Lamonica’s sons to play on, and Braden drove the boat for a while. “They were really good to my kids,” Lamonica said.
He called the loss of his boat–which was not insured–”devastating, But you know what,” he began to say, then broke down with emotion and had to pause. “It’s nothing. I mean, I can care less about that boat. Everybody is alive on the boat, so that’s all I care about. Everybody came home, it’s one hell of a story to tell, I didn’t even have insurance on the boat, which sucks, but you know what, everybody’s lives are more important than that boat. You can work for another boat, you can’t work for another life. You know what I mean? Always can replace another boat. Can’t replace somebody’s life.”
He added: “Yeah, it’s hit me hard and I think about it every day. I haven’t even slept that much in the last few nights.”
The boat is still out there, floating. Divers swam by it not long after the incident, and one of them managed to get underneath and retrieve some belongings. They found Eric’s wallet. They delivered it to him. “They just knocked on his door and said, Hey, are you Eric?” Arnett said, “and he’s like, Yeah. He goes, ‘Here, I dove your wreck, I got your wallet.’”
If there are any doubts that–for all the noise and acrimony on certain shores–the community is still an ocean of good Samaritans, the Kicking Back’s story should put them to rest.
KIX fan says
Southern Chaos…… Isn’t that the name of the band in which Kevin Kane, DJ on KIX Country 98.7, that he is the drummer for? Does this have anything to do with him??
Eric Serrano says
Shout out to CJ Johnston, owner of Sudden Chaos, who saved us. And to Bruce White (i believe thats his last name), who retrieved my bag. He didnt know what to expect when he went underneath. Im not Mike’s brother-in-law, Terry is. And Mike is raising “men”. His sons were unbelievable. A day we’ll never forget.
Mike Farland says
Read your story. Chills ran down my spine. So glad you all survived to tell the tail. Most people are completely useless in an emergency situation. Lucky for all of you that none of you apparently fit that description.
Fred Read says
You couldn’t tell seri 911? And I sure that you also know to carry an EPIRB emergency sos beacon that pinpoints your position within a few feet. Really glad that your boat had so much buoyancy and it was pretty calm. A lot of good things in you favor. And a funny story with blasting music. It worked!
Concerned Citizen says
Something to think about for your bait bag.
Maritime hand held radios can be had cheap. And are a life saving device. So are personal Emergency Beacons.
I’m a ham radio operator and emergency services volunteer. I never ever rely on cell phones for emergency communications. Always have multiple ways of getting the word out.
Glad you guys made it OK.
No insurance !!!! Total loss for just a couple hundred bucks. I guess he didn’t have Sea Tow either. Can’t imagine what the salvage bill will be.
The way these storms roll in & out on the coast, being out of the water in any boat can be concerning. Quite often water spouts form off shore as the equivalent of what a tornado is on land. Fortunate that we are in the summer season here and daylight is at the longest it will be, relatively for the rest of the year.
What a crazy experience! Glad everyone is okay!
Sounds like Mike and crew did the right things at the right time and kept their cool when things literally went belly up. Then they followed the rules, stayed with the boat and were lucky that there were other boats around. Happy ending this time but small single engined boats are vulnerable offshore and very unstable if the engine fails when the water is choppy.
It’s important to have the lifejackets accesible, it’s important to know the VHF radio proceedure, better still, keep a buoyant grab bag handy with a PLB (personal locator beacon) in it, (or EPIRB) which send an emergency signal including your position to a rescue satellite. Oh and put that emergency flare kit you hope you’ll never use in that bag so you can show the would be rescuers where you are as they get near to you.
A seasoned, experienced Captain ?
Have boaters not learned ?
An EPIRB (Emergency position indicating Radio Beacon) is a MUST !!
Once activated, the Calvary will descend upon you ASAP !! No cell phone needed !! No Humpty Dance needed !! Remember the two young boys who disappeared a few years back ? If they had an EPIRB, chances are good they would be here today . All boaters … GET AN EPIRB TODAY !!
Excellent post regarding a EPIRB and a SPOT GPS locator. Cell phones are generally worthless in a lot of locations.
FLARES are a requirement as well and somebody should have been in charge of those. Do a “ preflight “ everytime you go out with anyone to let them know where the safety equipment is. Glad everything did work out and you got back OK.
Davy Jones says
Good job fellas. You did everything right; everything the Coast Guard says you should do, albeit the missing flares. Everyone lives and gets to tell the tale.
It sort of looks like you may have been overloaded on that little 23 footer though. Probably over half a ton of humans and then there’s the gear and gas.
Concerned Citizen says
From a seasoned Emergency Services Volunteer/A,ateur Radio Operator.
I want to throw this out there for the entire community.
I have been active in Emergency Services all of my adult life. From the time I went into the Airforce until moving into Law Enforcement then Fire Rescue. Now during my later years I have had extensive volunteer experience in the Emergency Services Community. I am an Extra class license amateur radio operator and also have commercial licenses so communications are in my blood. LOL
Please please please
Do not rely solely on cell phones. Yes cell technology has come a long way. And we are now dependant on it. But it is not 100 percent fool proof.
If you are going to go out on the water or if you are hiking or going on a lengthy road trip. Please have multiple ways of communicating. Two way radios are inexpensive and can back up your cell phone. Likewise there are Personal Emergency Beacons that transmit various modes of communication. All of these can be found on Amazon/Ebay. Double check to see what needs licenses. But it is worth every penny. Think of it as added insurance.
Also. Notify your family and friends of where you will be when traveling. Prearrange check ins At various points of your travel. And have procedures in place for over due or missing them. Then people know where you are. Or where you are expected to be. It’s not about being paranoid. It’s about being prepared.
Time is of the esscence once a search and rescue mission is launched. Information is vital to the searchers. And having it all planned out ahead of time will help you when things go south.
None of this will guarentee a happy ending when things go bad. But being prepared makes life a WHOLE lot EASIER when you find yourself in rough situation.
Fish On says
20 years ago I was 10 miles out off Flagler Beach in a Kayak fishing. Huge whale swam by me and raised its flipper and waved at me. I waved back, and headed in. Never know what will happen out there.
Jerry B says
EPIRBS SHOULD BE MANDATORY. In this instance I’m not sure why a 23ft boat is 10 miles off shore. THATS TOO FAR. Fishing depths and the reef is much closer. This story could’ve easily had a bad ending. Great thinking on the part of the captain. Great story. Emphasis on staying with the vessel should be added into the story. Also, a few links to inexpensive epirbs.