Use ‘GOTWA’ to develop a game plan on the water

Recon Marines use the GOTWA technique to keep the team informed on each other’s whereabouts. You can use it to let others know about your fishing plans — and what to do if you don’t return.

Inform others when you’ll be returning — and what to do if you don’t

There are a lot of concepts I learned during my time in Marine Reconnaissance that I still use today. In this article, I am going to share a favorite you can use to go fishing safely.


This is a weird, incorrectly organized acronym (for ease of pronunciation) used by Recon Marines when conducting patrols — specifically when the team is to temporarily split up.

The idea is to inform everyone what’s going on — and what to do if/when certain things happen.

What does it stand for?

The acronym covers five main points:

G = Where I’m going

O = Others going with me

T = The time I will return

W = What to do if I don’t return

A = Action taken if attacked

So, if I’m a team leader going over the hill to conduct a recon with the point man, then I’ll leave my assistant team leader there with everyone else, tell him I’m taking the point man, and that I expect to be gone a couple hours. Also, he is to raise me on team comms if I don’t return by then, and if attacked, break contact and rendezvous at the nearest rally point. If I’m attacked, I will break contact toward the same rally point and we will reassemble the team there.

That’s a little down and dirty, but you can see how this same technique can apply to inshore fishing, as in this example if you find yourself fishing out in Breton Sound.

G = I’m going to fish the long rocks all the way to Breton Island

O = Two of my friends, Mike and Ben

T = I’ll be back no later than 6 p.m.

W = Call my phone. If I don’t answer after the second attempt, call the Coast Guard, give them my boat’s description and registration numbers and where I said I’d be fishing

A = If we break down, we’ll hang tight and call Sea Tow for marine assistance, then try to contact you. If things are really bad, we’ll don our life vests (if needed) and prepare signaling devices for long-distance recognition by search parties.


I know this example was pretty down and dirty, too.

So this is not a template for you to copy, but to communicate the idea that danger does exist out there — and any situation can quickly deteriorate into a bad one.

The key is to have that safety net when it does, and using GOTWA helps to achieve that end.

Tight lines, y’all.

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