BEES ON THE BOAT                                    bees

by Thomas Valkenet

A few weeks ago, I was a guest on a friend’s dual console Stingray. Together, we spent the early morning prepping the boat and our gear before traveling to the marina with our significant others. We thought very little of the three or four bees zipping in and around the gunwales and bimini top. We swatted several dead with whatever was handy, and tossed a can of repellent into the boat for any stray daring to show up later in the day to distract our ladies from their Summer reading. The sun was warming, and it was going to be a great day.

Is there anything more relaxing than a Saturday morning as the sun rises over the water while you prep for another lazy day of fishing and cruising? Where will it be, today, Hart Miller Island? A crab house in Rock Hall? But first, you do the usual to check out your boat and safety equipment before getting under way. And then it’s time to load up your passengers, and off you go. Simple and routine, with no surprises, right? We are all generally aware that a boat must be reasonably maintained in a safe manner for the benefit of our passengers, including safety equipment, but are you sure you checked everything?

Several hours later, we were five miles from shore cruising at a comfortable 20 knots with a pleasant wind in our hair. My friend asked me to take the wheel when he noticed a stray bee circling under the port console passenger seat. The bee was just under the gunwales where it was immune to the wind. It landed on the deck and crawled under the port console. My friend knelt down, poked his head under the console where the bee had entered and sprayed. In the time it took the bow to hit the top of the next wave, he had stood up and stumbled back toward the rear jump seat, exclaiming “oh my God!”

At that moment, a black cloud of swirling bees blossomed from under the console and filled the space between the bimini and the deck. I disengaged the drive and all four of us quickly retreated to separate corners of the boat as the boat drifted. My space was on the bow, standing on the anchor locker contemplating an early swim. The others were sitting on the extreme edges of the stern as the engine idled and the bees swirled under the bimini. And if there had been a flame thrower on board, any one of us would have torched the boat to kill the bees, I am sure of it.

All boat operators are responsible for the relative safety of their passengers. At law, it is a “duty of reasonable care.” And that means acting reasonably under the circumstances. Earlier that morning, my friend (also a lawyer) had gone through all his safety gear, counting life vests and even checking the fire extinguisher. But bees? Where do they fall along the spectrum of “reasonable care?”

I assure that none of this was on my mind while standing on the anchor locker, ready to abandon ship and leave the others to battle the black cloud. Gathering myself, we coordinated a strategy where I buttoned up my clothes and drove the boat at top cruising speed while my friend sprayed and swatted as many bees as remained with the boat. Twenty minutes later we were grounded on a beach, counting our bee stings and wondering how the day had spun so out-of-control so quickly.

Let me share what I have since learned about treating bee stings:

  • Remove the stinger. But don’t pinch the stinger as that can inject more venom.
  • Ask your passenger if they have a history of anaphylaxis, a potentially severe or life-threatening allergic reaction to bee stings.
  • Call 911 if your passenger has difficulty breathing, faintness, hives, or a swollen tongue.

None of us were allergic, and so the damage was limited to some moderate swelling from about a dozen bee stings. My friend later pulled an eight inch honey comb out from under the console. The size of the budding nest told us that this had been under construction for a few weeks, before our first voyage. And perhaps that is what defines “reasonable care.” Perhaps the less frequently you use your boat, the more thorough the pre-voyage check for potentially harmful conditions, like unwanted critters. And I would also suggest that you know a bit about your passengers, and obvious allergies like bee stings. They may carry their own prescription EpiPen for just this event.

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