Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Fishing Vessel Safety


An abandon ship drill during a Drill Conductor workshop in Sitka. Photo by Jerry Dzugan

As of October 15, 2015, voluntary dock-side safety exams will become a Coast Guard requirement. This will apply to vessels that fish beyond three nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline.

Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard is initiating an nation-wide effort – which will include voices from the commercial fishing industry – to create a completely new Alternate Safety Compliance Program (ASC). The end result of the first-ever collaboration of its kind will be a new ASC program that will take effect January 1, 2017. Fishermen will have a three-year grace period to make necessary changes to meet requirements.

"It will be a regionally-based program that will focus on the actual issues fishermen face in their region or their particular fishery," says Troy Rentz, USCG 13th District Alternate Compliance Coordinator, pointing out that it won't be overly costly for fishermen to make changes. "We don't want to require something very expensive unless there is a real need we're addressing. We want the resources to address the risk."

First though, Rentz says some groundwork is needed before the meetings can begin. "In cooperation with NIOSH, we are evaluating losses and fatalities and that way when the work groups meet, they'll have some data to look at."

Fishermen are encouraged to start talking about the ASC program at their meetings, discuss what risks there are to their individual fleets and review their current best practices for addressing those risks. In addition, if a vessel owner is planning on performing a major conversion, these new regulations could affect them sooner. Rentz suggests getting in touch with a Coast Guard fishing vessel examiner to be sure.

The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) has seen a rise in the number of people taking its ergonomics training course, especially in the months before most fishing seasons begin. This is a good thing since nearly 40 percent of injuries are attributed to muscular-skeletal disorders that involve the lower back, shoulder, elbow, hand and wrists.

"Most of the people we've taught are processors," says Jerry Dzugan, Executive Director. "They suffer with similar problems as fishermen as they're both doing repetitive motions."

Prevention can play a big part. Stretching and strengthening exercises will help the body be more resilient to injury. The key is doing exercises on a daily basis, not just before the fishing starts. Fishermen also learn about retrofitting their decks to increase efficiency in movement to reduce injuries.

AMSEA's 8-hour Upright and Watertight course emphasizes both stability and damage control, as flooding is one of the leading causes of stability problems. The course covers requirements and responsibility, stability terminology, stability principles and stability curve, operational consideration, understanding stability reports and flooding control and prevention. "Anyone can take it, but the captain, engineer and the owner are the ones who make the main decisions regarding stability," says Dzugan.

The Association's 10 and 18-hour drill conductor training courses are also running well. The courses, which meet US Coast Guard training requirements, cover firefighting, life rafts, MAYDAYs, immersion suits & PFDs, flares, emergency drills, cold water survival skills and EPIRBS. There are certified drill instructors located around the US and Alaska.

On the personal protective equipment side of things, Dzugan notes that there are more fishermen today wearing lifejackets than in the last 10 or 20 years. "It's been a generational change," he says. "At every training we give and in every drill conductor class, that's one of the things we try to emphasize by bringing in wearable PFDs for participants to try out. A lot of people are surprised that these products even exist."

In Seattle, Fremont Maritime's India Tango firefighting training is still one of the most popular commercial fishing courses the center offers. The 2-day basic and 4-day advanced programs run throughout the year. These are hands-on courses that typically the larger factory and processing fleet crewmembers attend. Additionally, Fremont offers courses aboard fishing vessels to help crews develop a fire response plan, team training procedures, and instruct teams on how to run drills as well as evaluate what they do and help them do it better.

President Capt. Jon E. Kjaerulff observes many commercial fishermen are realizing they want to be at the same level of training as those working in the towing and passenger industry, even though this training is not required by the Coast Guard.

"If a fisherman wishes to obtain a Merchant Mariner credential, he or she is going to need approved training in not only firefighting, but also Sea Survival, Safety, and First Aid," he says. "This training is often referred to as STCW Basic Safety Training, and it is a standard many companies have already adopted as an industry best practice."

According to Kjaerulff, changes are coming to the SCTW regulations. Fishermen and other mariners currently holding Able Seaman documents will have to attend 1-day survival and 1-day refresher trainer every five years, while those holding officer licenses will need that plus a 2-day Advanced firefighting refresher class every five years. These rules will become effective the first time the individual renews their document or license after January 1, 2017.

Karen Conrad of the North Pacific fishing vessel Owner's Association (NPFVOA) says safety training continues on course for commercial fishermen while NPFVOA readies for anticipated regulations.

"We're still in a holding pattern for 2010 US Coast Guard Authorization Act changes that will see new requirements for competency courses such as stability, damage control, navigation, drill instructor and survival training," she says. "When that hits, that will be huge for the industry."

Additionally, for those with fishing vessels over 200 gross tons with an engineering assistant who stands watch, the Coast Guard has mandated that an assistant engineering license will be required as of October 15, 2015. Conrad sits on the board of the Seattle Maritime Academy, which has recently developed a 160 contact-hour course called Assistant Engineer, Uninspected Fishing Industry Vessels, that is to be given at its Ballard campus starting in June.

Conrad is also passionate about encouraging young people who start out in the fishing industry to also obtain their Able Seaman's training. "I'm trying to push these young kids to get their sea time, get in and get documentation so they can move up the chain to get a higher license so when they're 30 years old, they could be a mate on the boat, rather than still on deck and processing.

Safety training for people who work as processors is also something Conrad is encouraging even though it's not an industry requirement. "Before people leave for their season, we either go to their boat or they come here to Fishermen's Terminal and we put processors in immersion suits," she says. "They have to jump in the water, swim to a life raft, get into it and then get out as well as learn what a muster station is and what types of safety equipment they need to be familiar with." Last year, approximately 1,700 processors were trained, with the same amount expected to go through this year.

Trident Seafoods always conducts a safety orientation session before vessels depart to go fishing. This includes hands-on training in the company's training room for all crewmembers as well as in-water training, where crewmembers have to don a survival suit, climb up a three-foot high ramp and enter the water off the dock. Once in the water, they form up in a star pattern and are taught survival techniques. They then swim to a life raft and are instructed on how to enter the life raft and taught about the survival equipment contained in the raft.

"We also perform a fire drill, using a smoke machine for realism," says Marty Teachout, VP Vessel Safety, Risk Management. Trident trainers also simulate flooding a ship in order to train crews how to muster and review safety equipment on vessels. Crews are required to drill every 30 days throughout the year while they're underway.

Man overboard training is also critical. "On the larger boats, we have a rescue swimmer who is deployed to recover the man overboard if possible," explains Teachout. "On our smaller boats, they usually maneuver the boats for a man overboard."

Teachout has observed changing safety trends in the industry, noting that there is more awareness in trying to address safety concerns throughout the fleet, both in safety equipment used and with wearing protective gear. "The driving force is to go catch fish and do it safely and come home safe as well."

Live to be Salty, a multi-media educational campaign that began last spring, has been making a difference in getting the word out about Personal Flotation Devices and to encourage fishermen to go to different vendors and try them on.

Developed by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), it is based on a research study conducted in 2008 and 2009 where commercial fishermen in four different groups (crabbers, gillnetters, longliners, trawlers) were given six different types of lifejackets to be evaluated for comfort over a period of 30 days.

Between 2000 and 2013 in the US, 191 fishermen died. None were wearing a PFD. In fact, according to NIOSH, falling overboard continues to be the second-highest ranked cause of death in the commercial fishing industry.

Live to be Salty specifically targets salmon fishermen in Bristol Bay and crabbers in the Bearing Sea/Aleutian Islands regions to help counteract persistent myths on cold water immersion and man overboard risks but the message applies to all fishermen, regardless.

Angus Iversen, the digital spokesman of the campaign, was developed as a character who can speak very frankly and humorously about those issues. Campaign posters and miscellaneous educational materials can be found in a variety of places where fishermen congregate such as in gear shops, restaurants, and ports, etc., and on the campaign website at

Reviewing the operation of a Coast Guard dewatering pump at Sitka Air station. Photo by Jerry Dzugan.

"You can't think of a lifejacket as an emergency device," says Ted Teske, Health Communication Specialist for NIOSH's fishing safety program. "It needs to be a standard piece of deck gear worn 100 percent of the time on deck so if a fishermen goes over the rail, they're protected, otherwise their chances of surviving the incident are greatly decreased."

Can safety training also help decrease the number of injuries and deaths? Jennifer Lincoln, director of NIOSH's commercial fishing Safety Research and Design Program says: "NIOSH has been able to show that fishermen who receive the 8-hour safety training course within five years of an incident occurring are more likely to survive an event, so we can show that marine safety training really does save lives by looking at those who had taken it versus those who didn't."


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