Captain drowns after passengers are unable to pull him back aboard charter fishing boat

The captain and owner of the 40-foot charter fishing boat Three Bears died May 13 after falling overboard about 15 miles southwest of Newport, Ore., on a calm sunny day.

Skipper Jim Edson remained alongside the boat in the 51° water holding onto a life ring but lost consciousness within five minutes. He was not wearing a life jacket.
According to one of the passengers, Casey Roberts, who had just hooked a halibut, Edson was helping him land the fish when he rolled over the waist-high rail. Two passengers were able to reach over the side and hold onto Edson, but were unable to lift him out of the water. Roberts put on a life jacket and jumped in, but was also unable to assist Edson, who was 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed over 300 pounds. Roberts was then pulled back onto the deck of Three Bears.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter arrived at the site approximately 15 minutes after receiving the emergency radio call. A rescue swimmer went into the water and was able to move Edson onto a litter. The helicopter then winched him from the water and flew him to Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport, where he was pronounced dead.

The coroner’s report revealed that Edson’s death was the result of asphyxiation by drowning with hypothermia as a contributing factor.

Edson had worked in the local fishing industry for 30 years and was regarded as a safety-conscious captain who didn’t hesitate to call off a trip if the weather was doubtful. However, he recently spoke out against making life jackets mandatory on charter boats. The Coast Guard regulations for charter boats do not require gear such as steps on the transom or a ladder that would allow someone who fell overboard to climb back into the boat.

By Professional Mariner Staff