In conjunction with National Safe Boating Week 2012 we will be featuring first-person accounts of those who survived an accident on the water. Today’s story comes from a dad who explains the fear he felt when his child went missing off a dock. We are sharing his story here at Compass in the hopes you will learn no matter what age, or what activity you are doing, when you are on or near the water you should always “wear it!”
Sunday, Sept. 21, 2003, is a day I never want to repeat. My son, Daniel, was six years old. Although he was learning how to swim, I should have followed the golden rule: Never leave a child in or near the water alone!
That Sunday started out like most days off – relaxed. My wife, in fact, was home asleep with our three-year-old. We owned a diving service, and routinely perform maintenance on boats. I decided to take Daniel with me early that morning to check on a customer’s sailboat. He was going to participate in a race that day.
It was about 6:30 a.m. when Daniel and I arrived to inspect the sailboat. I slipped into my wet suit, donned my mask and fins, and, just before entering the water, I fastened a child-rated life jacket onto Daniel. “Now, Daniel,” I said, “Stay on the dock and I will be right back.”
As I checked the bottom of the racing sailboat, I frequently glanced at the dock to see Daniel standing there watching me, waving to me. “Perfect,” I said to myself. “He is doing just fine.” As I finished, I glanced over my shoulder to see another customer’s boat just across the dock. I decided to quickly check out that boat. “Daniel is only going to be out of my sight for a couple of minutes,” I thought.
Of all people, I should have remembered the golden rule. I was a lifeguard in college. I was a professional diver. I had spent 20 years in the Navy, performing the duties of a professional combatant swimmer. I was a Navy SEAL.
As I swam over to the other boat, I found myself getting nervous about Daniel. But I ignored these nagging thoughts. Then, somehow, I just knew something was wrong. I moved to the end of the other dock to see where Daniel was standing – and saw no one! I swam outward to get the full view of the dock on which he was standing. Daniel was gone!
I immediately swam toward the dock, my heart pounding out of my chest, my mind aching with anxiety. It was the worst feeling a parent could ever experience. I prayed as I raced across the water, frantically searching, looking underwater, scouting the shoreline, checking the gaps between the docks…when suddenly, I heard the crying sound of a small, frightened Daniel.
Out of my sight, on the backside of the dock, was a little head sticking out of the water. As I reached Daniel, he was sobbing and relieved to see me. But no more relieved than I – and no more thankful than I – that the life jacket was protecting him. The life jacket, not the SEAL, saved my son’s precious little life.
To this day, I will never forget how my son’s life could have been taken for my failure to obey the golden rule: Never leave a child in or near the water unattended.