June 24, 2022
By Jeff Moag
Blake Broussard never wanted to get famous on the internet, but his GoPro camera was rolling that day on Toledo Bend Reservoir when he and his father got thrown from their bass boat at 60 miles per hour. Just like that, Blake was sitting on the best video footage ever captured of a high-speed turn gone terribly wrong.
And sit on it is what he did. For a year after the April 2018 incident, Blake shared the remarkable video with only a few close friends. Never mind the heroic leap he made to save the boat from sure destruction, and that later vaulted him to viral stardom. He was embarrassed.
He’d let his attention lapse in a high-speed turn, and just like that he and his father Clay were in the water with a 250 horsepower bass boat circling back at them like a hungry shark.
He’d forgotten to attach the engine cut-off switch to his lifejacket.
This was no rookie mistake. Blake has been driving bass boats since he was a kid in South Louisiana. He learned from Clay, who had learned from his father. Fishing and boating is in the Broussard blood, and Blake was a natural, Clay says. But in today’s high-performance bass boats a split second of inattention is all it takes to lose control.
In the video, we see where it goes wrong. Blake is focused for a second too long on his GPS, which was set up for fishing rather than the high-speed run he was making. A buoy was out of place, causing Blake to enter the turn a little wide. The boat was planning with little more than the prop in the water, so when Blake turned the wheel to correct his course the boat started sliding sideways toward the buoy and the stumps beyond it. Blake backed off the throttle, and as the boat started to come off plane, the chine caught.
“That’s when we went from 60 to zero, and basically there was nothing keeping us in the boat,” Blake explains.
“If that chine bites like it happened to us, you experience multiple G forces and you're out of the boat in milliseconds,” adds Clay.
“I skidded 30 or 40 yards and found myself several feet underwater before the PFD inflated and I came popping up to the surface. And then I looked for the boat and was surprised to see the motor was still running and that the boat was still moving,” Clay says. “That was when the revelation went off for me that this was a much worse situation than we just got blown out of the boat.”
The motor was turning at about 3,000 r.p.m. and the sudden change of direction had brought the boat almost to a standstill. The motor’s torque steered the boat into a sharp right hand turn, and it made three loops at about 10 miles an hour. That allowed the Broussards to swim clear before the boat climbed back on plane and accelerated. Seconds after that it was clocking circles at 30 miles per hour.
Blake was sure he’d seen the last of his boat. “It looked like it was going to head across the lake and basically crash into a forest, and you don't really care,” he says. “I mean, it’s just equipment.”
Fortunately another father and son fishing team was on the water nearby, and swooped in to pull Clay and Blake from the water. “Those guys might have saved our lives that day,” Blake says, noting that if the boat hadn’t caught up to them there’s a good chance hypothermia would have. They were already plenty cold when the other boaters got them out of the water and the son asked Blake, “What do you want to do now?”
Blake’s boat has a 60-gallon tank and it was almost full. He figures it would have turned circles out there for another 20 hours, if it didn’t first hit a stump or wander into the forest. And during that time it would be a hazard to any other boat traveling the boat lane.
Blake felt it was his responsibility to stop it.
After he posted the video to YouTube, more than 2,000 people offered their opinions on what Blake should or should not have done. On the internet everyone thinks they’re an expert, but the true pros are of one mind on this one: If your boat is spiraling in the middle of the lake and it poses no risk to life, let it be. Wait the 20 hours. Make the insurance claim. Live to fish another day.
Don’t try to be a hero, because your odds of pulling it off are not good, even if you are as athletic and adrenaline-charged as Blake Broussard was that day. This is the sort of gig Chuck Norris’s stuntman would need three takes to get right. Somehow, Blake nailed it on the first try.
“That was a one-of-one. I don't know if given the same situation that I could have done that twice,” he says. “If you find yourself in the situation that I found myself in and you can think of anything other than jumping back into your own boat, you should probably do that.”
The more he replayed the accident in his mind, the more convinced Blake became that no one should ever find themselves in that situation. Everyone makes mistakes. Even the best drivers misjudge a turn now and then. That’s why trucks come with seatbelts, and bass boats are equipped with engine cut-off switches, also known as kill switches.
“The kill switch is something that you should never, ever actually have to use, but it’s there such that when you do need it, it deploys properly. And that means it needs to be connected to your body and not taken for granted,” says Clay, who’s been sharing that kind of fatherly advice in deer stands and around fishing holes since Blake was a boy.
“He taught me everything I know about fishing and hunting and things of that nature—general being a man type stuff,” Blake says. Being a man also means helping others and owning up to your mistakes, and in the months after the accident Blake began to think it was his responsibility to share the video, just as stopping the boat had been. In some ways, it takes just as much courage to post a video like that to the internet as it does to wrangle a runaway bass boat. So Blake took his time.
“It took me it took me a year and a lot of encouragement from a lot of people to post that video because I was I was fearful of the negative feedback that I would get,” Blake says. There was some of that in the online comments, but the overwhelming response was from fellow boaters praising him for sharing a lesson he’d learned the hard way. For Blake, that was reward enough.
“I just hope that maybe there's that one guy that reminds his young son to put that life jacket on or put that kill switch on because of this. And he can visually show his son or his friend or even himself that this could happen to anybody.”