Charter Boat Captain Mike Maher was packing items into his boat after hunting for snook with his friend when he got a call about a capsized vessel Thursday afternoon.
“There were lots of scared people,” said Maher, 64, Vero Beach. “It can be a pretty traumatic experience.”
The 23-foot-long vessel, which had a family of nine from Ohio on board, flipped about 4 p.m. June 6 in the Sebastian Inlet, near the 9700 block of Highway A1A in Melbourne Beach, Brevard County Fire Rescue crews and U.S. Coast Guard officials said. The vessel was less than a half-mile off shore.
There were four children and five adults who were on the boat that overturned, said Maher’s friend Richard Schlitt. No injuries were reported, according to Brevard County Fire Rescue.
“The kids seemed visibly shaken. The Inlet gets pretty rough,” said Schlitt, 64, Vero Beach. “There were a bunch of people in the water. They were being taken away by the current out to the ocean.”
Maher said he put his boat in reverse and sped to the scene with Schlitt.
“We got busy,” Maher said. “It is a code of anyone on the water. If someone needs help, you help them.”
Maher said he drove through the choppy waves and blowing winds to get to the vessel. A second boat and two surfers also saw the overturned vessel and several people in the water and rushed to help.
“We got the people who were free swimming first and then others who were clinging onto the (capsized) boat,” Maher said. “The surfers were already on their way out there. They were on their A-game.”
Melbourne Beach resident Terry Weatherford, 69, was a good Samaritan on the second boat.
“Mike Maher is the true hero in the rescue,” Weatherford said. “He is the type of person that doesn’t leave anyone behind.”
Schlitt said he thinks the rough waves might have caused the family’s boat to overturn. The family was not able to swim to shore because the current was drifting in the opposite direction, Schlitt said.
“You could still see shore, but it was far away,” Schlitt said. “If you see a boat capsize, get there quick. Don’t put it off on anyone else. All it takes is a second for people to give up.”
Schlitt said some of the people in the water had on life jackets while others did not. The good Samaritans put half of the stranded family members on one boat and the other half on the other boat.
The surfers also got on the boats, Schlitt said. It took from 10 to 15 minutes to get everyone out of the water, Schlitt said.
The boaters took the family and surfers back to the dock. Then, firefighters spoke with the family members, who all refused treatment, officials said.
“They were just grateful,” Schlitt said.
The water rescue was not the first incident for Maher. Maher said he has helped to rescue people whose boat overturned in similar situations over the past few years at the Sebastian Inlet.
“It happens often at (the inlet). If (boaters) are not experienced, then they are in trouble,” Maher said. “I happen to be there a lot.”
Schlitt said seeing his friend Maher in action made his day.
“He has compassion for helping other people,” Schlitt said. “We have a lot of great people in our community willing to go the distance to help others.”