GREAT RIVER, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Russell Giannotti, of Commack, was sporting just bruises and scratches Monday, but his captain’s confidence — earned over three decades — is shaken after he had to be rescued by police from Long Island Sound.

While fishing Sunday from his 26-foot boat called Reel Hard II, Giannotti learned a real hard lesson, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.

“I should have never gotten into the water without the life jacket — and you know what, I know better,” Giannotti said.

After getting his fishing line tangled in the engine’s propeller, he jumped overboard to free it up.

“I said, ‘Should I get the life jacket?'” Giannotti said. “I said, ‘Ah, it’s right there. I’ll just go in and get it. It’ll be no problem.'”

As he stepped down on the boat’s ladder, lowering himself into deceivingly choppy water, there was a problem.

“When the ladder broke, I knew I was in trouble,” Giannotti said. “I couldn’t get back in the boat. And the boat’s high, and it was rough, and I was getting smacked against the boat.”

He was a mile and a half off Eatons Neck in Long Island Sound. Other boaters couldn’t get too close for fear of crushing him.

“You don’t realize it, I guess, until you’re actually in the water how rough it really was,” Giannotti said.

His panicked wife, still on board, threw him a life vest and a rope, but he couldn’t put it on in choppy waters. So for a half-hour, he clung to it while nearby boaters summoned help.

“He was starting to get all tangled up in it, and it looked like he was possibly going to be kind of pulled under the boat from the line because he was starting to get tied up and kind of struggling,” said Officer Anthony Sangimno with the Suffolk County Police Department’s Marine Bureau.

“Where he was located, it was two bodies of water merging together, so that made it a lot more choppier,” added police Officer Chris DeFeo.

Police who pulled Giannotti to safety say even experienced boaters can learn from his mistake.

“With your gear, make sure it’s top working condition,” said DeFeo said. “Make sure if it’s old or if it looks like it has any type of stretch cracks or anything like that, make sure you replace it.”

“Definitely do not think about going in the water without a life jacket on,” Giannotti said.

And keep track of quick weather changes. The winds changed Sunday, and the still Long Island Sound that the Giannottis set out in was churning up by late day.

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