Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Preparing Your Boat for Safety


February 1, 2016

Ted Long has seen it all too often.

Long, whose family owns longtime boat service company Fashion Blacksmith in Crescent City, Calif., says fishermen often sail away before making sure their boats are in proper working order.

“What I see overlooked a lot and neglected is shafting and bearings and the regular checking of them, greasing them and keeping them in good shape,” said Long, whose company has built and refurbished fishing boats for more than 40 years. “I’ve seen it a few times. The shaft breaks, the shaft comes out, propeller comes out, and you’re adrift in the ocean. Bad things can happen when it comes to shafting or anything mechanical in the engine room.”

Whether fishing in local waters or trolling for big catches hundreds of miles away from home, fishermen should prepare their boats with the appropriate equipment and a game plan before leaving the docks.

It could mean the difference between coming away with a successful catch and leaving empty-handed. It could also mean the difference between life and death.

“Good preparation would sum up the start of having a good season,” said Stephen James, general manager and co-owner of Ventura Harbor Boatyard, a Ventura, California, repair and maintenance yard serving commercial and recreational vessels. “A healthy respect for knowing what could go wrong and minimizing the risks will keep most operations safe.”

Pay attention to those systems that keep water out such as sea valves, shaft and rudder packings and hull integrity, James said.

Solid performing main engine or engines, good fuel, good shaft lines and steering systems are also key in keeping a boat moving through the water, he said.

“Vessel stability is often misunderstood and I think vessel operators should reach out and get some basic knowledge and understanding of the topic,” James said. “On vessels that employ picking and lifting gear, an inspection of the foundations of booms, net reels and winches is a good practice.”

Check the plumbing system and piping to make sure they are not deteriorated, Long said.

The bottom of a boat and its parts such as the rudders, shafts and struts should be cleaned regularly to minimize drag, said Craig Campbell, general manager of Del Rey Landing in Marina Del Rey, Calif.

Campbell, a 20-year boat captain who has fished all over the world, said navigation lights should be replaced and sacrificial zincs should be used to keep corrosion down.

While the level of preparation depends on the vessel and the type of fishing one plans on doing, most fishermen can benefit from a depth sounder and bait tank system, as well as a good supply of spare rods, lines, nets and gaffs for the kind of fish they want to catch, Campbell said.

Electric fuel pumps, a side scan sonar, a VHF radio, flares and a properly running generator are good to have for fishermen who want to travel farther offshore, he said.

“A generator is a very essential part of most, if not all, ocean-going boats, especially fishing boats, because fishing boats use a lot of electricity,” Campbell said.

Also, make sure fishing gear is properly maintained, which includes replacing lines, rinsing rods and reels with fresh water and spraying some WD-40 on reels for smoother equipment use, he said.

A logbook is a handy thing to have to record hourly engine and bait tank checks, position in the water, speed and weather condition, Campbell said.

“It reminds you to keep an eye on things,” he said. “When you’re in the middle of the ocean, you have to be proactive about everything.”

Bianca Bearheart DeMers, an Oregon-based marine surveyor tasked with inspecting vessels and equipment onboard for damage or defects to ensure safety, suggested raising the height of the boat’s railing.

“Don’t just meet the minimum requirements,” she said. “Minimum is just that, minimum.”

DeMers also suggested lowering a boat’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon and adding another one inside the deckhouse, like the galley or companion way, to keep it dry and grab on the go.

“Your EPIRB is your voice when you are in trouble, so why place your voice at the top of the mast, as in many commercial craft?” she said. “If I’m up to my neck in water on the deck, I don’t want to wait for the water to reach the EPIRB, which will carry my voice for help. Time and again I have seen EPIRBs mounted high fail. One vessel had four mounted high on the mast and all four were dead.”

Having a solid, knowledgeable crew can make a difference on a fishing trip.

“Basic crew training sometimes gets overlooked,” James said.

James said there have been a recent rash of vessel groundings in his area. While he did not know the exact details of the groundings, he suspected crew fatigue may have been a factor.

“That is unusual but troubling because human life has been at risk and equipment has been damaged,” he said.

When it comes to people, safety is critical, Campbell said.

“The captain is in charge of every soul on that boat, whether they’re fishing in the cockpit or from the bow,” he said. “It’s important that you keep track of everybody.”

That means making sure the appropriate size and number of life jackets are on the boat and preparing for an overboard scenario by assigning tasks such as who should keep the man overboard within eyeshot while someone retrieves a life ring or calls the Coast Guard for help, Campbell said.

“You should designate people to do certain things prior to your fishing excursion so everyone knows what to do when something happens,” he said. “Things happen fast and you have to spring into action. And if you haven’t gone through it, you could potentially be in trouble.”

It’s also always good for fishermen to tell someone onshore where they are going and how long they plan on being gone, Campbell said.

“If you’re out in the middle of the ocean and you hit a cargo container, the boat sinks within five seconds and you have no chance to call anybody. At least someone onshore knows where you were going and can be instructed to call someone for you.”

Lastly, before leaving the docks, DeMers suggested getting to know a local marine inspection officer.

“The US Coast Guard offers a free safety inspection service and these fellas are smart,” said DeMers, who has held a US Coast Guard 100-Ton motor and sail license since 1980. “Tap into their knowledge base. They will inspect your vessel, offer suggestions, and your name and vessel remain anonymous. No database information is registered.”

James said he is a big believer in checklists when it come to preparing for the season and maintaining a vessel, adding that the US Coast Guard, North Pacific fishing vessel Owners Association, Sea Grant and other trade organizations are great resources for any vessel owner seeking some basic guidelines and checklists.

“Information is so much more prevalent now than it was in the past and I think it is always wise to see what others are doing rather than solely relying on what you know,” James said. “We can all learn from each other and (each other’s) mistakes.”


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