Cooler rescues overboard boaters

June 19, 2008 3:38:09 PM PDT
A cooler turned life preserver helped three boaters survive for 12 hours in the Great Bay.The three men set off from Smithville, Atlantic County, and capsized Tuesday night at 7:00 near Little Egg Harbor.

48-year-old Kevin Rist of Chalfont says the weather Tuesday turned quickly, tossing him, his brother Greg and their nephew Matthew into the choppy waters of the great bay.

"My nephew was on top and each of us were hanging on the side of the cooler on the handle. When it got real cold at night because of the wind picked up we all huddled together to try to keep warm," Kevin said.

In the darkness and with no prospect of being rescued at night the trio tried hanging on to buoys and channel markers, but the current was too much.

"I was kind of afraid. I didn't want them to panic, but we were doing everything we could to hit land but the current was so strong," Kevin said.

The three landed on a sandbar for a time, but rising tides forced them back into the water where they slept in shifts.

"The water was cold and it was windy that night, but we had a full moon, that's the only thing, we could see everything," Kevin said.

Finally, on Wednesday morning a passing boat saw them in the water and pulled them out, delivering them exhausted to the Great Bay Marina in Little Egg Harbor.

While Kevin recovers at Southern Ocean County Hospital, he says his ordeal has given him a new focus on life.

"Life's a gift; everybody has to appreciate that," Kevin said.