Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman



June 1, 2017

Fishermen fixing a flooding problem in the AMSEA damage control trailer in Sitka. Photo courtesy of AMSEA.

The number of fishing vessel Drill Conductor (FVDC) training classes being offered are on par with market demand, says Jerry Dzugan, Director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA). AMSEA provides this training across the US and Alaska, including the Gulf Coast, the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

The FVDC workshops include in-depth instruction in cold water survival skills, EPIRBs, flares, and May Days, man overboard recovery, firefighting, immersion suits and PFDs, emergency drills, helicopter rescue, life rafts, and abandon ship procedures. The course meets the US Coast Guard training requirements for drill conductors on commercial fishing vessels operating beyond three miles from shore (at low tide). "We do about 125 of these classes a year," says Dzugan. "They've become one of our most popular commercial fishing safety training courses."

Also on an uptick are AMSEA's vessel stability classes. While not yet a USCG requirement, more and more fishing companies and fishermen are taking them. "We're getting good-sized classes that are helping in the vetting process for when regulations will require fishermen to take this training."

According to Dzugan, 29 fishermen survived a fishing vessel casualty in 2016 due to taking the stability and drill conductor training courses, a record high for AMSEA.

As far as preparing for potential May Day callouts during an imminent vessel disaster, Dzugan says an easy way to deploy an immediate May Day is to push the red button on a vessel's Digital Select Calling (DSC) radio. But in order to use the DSC effectively, it needs to be hooked up to the GPS system. However, Dzugan says, many commercial fishermen have not yet done this.

The upside is that once connected properly (DSC/GPS system inputted with the MMSI license number), crew can quickly push the red button down for five seconds, and it will send out the vessel's position repeatedly. "When a vessel is about to capsize, you don't have time to get your suit on and give May Day information to the Coast Guard," says Dzugan. "This system gives out the May Day continually and will work through atmosphere interference up to 25 percent further than a voice message."

Dzugan explains commercial fishermen do not need to apply for an MMSI number. Since most fishermen are required to have an FCC radio license, their MMSI number is already on their FCC license. Instructions for their specific radio should be carefully read before entering their MMSI number on their FCC radio license into their radio. However, if they accidentally enter a wrong digit of their MMSI number in at least one brand, they have to send the radio back to the manufacturer to correct.

At this time, Alaska and Hawaii are not fully DSC-capable due to the lack of shore side towers. "Meanwhile, if they follow the instructions to make their radios DSC-functional, they will be at least be picked up by some vessel's plotters if within range." says Dzugan.

Ensuring fishing vessels are safe is still a top priority for the US Coast Guard. Beginning in October of 2015, new regulations required any commercial fishing vessel operating outside of three nautical miles from the baseline, to have a Coast Guard Safety Examination every five years.

"Or if they take a Federal Fisheries Observer onboard, then they would need to have it done every two years," says Michael G. Rudolph, fishing vessel Safety Examiner for all of Oregon and southwest Washington. "The exam is comprehensive. It covers all applicable safety rules and regulations that pertain to the boat based on its size, the number of people on board, and how many miles offshore they're going. And it covers primarily the lifesaving equipment, firefighting equipment, signaling such as their EPIRB, flares, and communications."

Examining vessel stability is also done, particularly for vessels over 79 feet that were built or converted after 1991, checking watertight and weathertight doors and bulkheads. "We also check crew preparedness for emergencies," explains Rudolph. "More than just having the equipment on board, they need to do monthly drills. They need to have emergency instructions or an emergency plan on what to do if, let's say, a person falls over board or there's a fire or flooding and they have to abandon ship. So number one, we will check to see if they're doing drills every month. We'll also talk to the crew and the captain about having them describe or walk through and describe different aspects of these emergencies."

Rudolph explains there have been some changes with regard to the US Coast Guard Alternate Safety Compliance Program (ASCP) (Congress mandated these programs in 2010 to be developed by 2017 and implemented by 2020) that has been worked on with the fishing community and other stakeholders to address casualties and risks identified in a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The ASCP applies to vessels 25 years of age or older and more than 50 feet in length that operate beyond three nautical miles from the baseline in order to address the vessel's maintenance and repairs. It will involve the Coast Guard being involved when fishermen haul their vessels out for dry-docking and hull inspection, verifying that proper repairs are being done in different maintenance cycles.

The program was being phased in, with a proposed first draft to be complete in January of this year, but the USCG has put it on hold until the laws are codified in the federal regulations, which is presently underway, according to Rudolph. In the meantime, a new guidebook has been published to help fishermen get ready for the ASCP as it continues to be developed. The book is called Voluntary Safety Initiatives and Good Marine Practices (VSI-GMP).

Rudolph says the guide covers areas that will expand current standards pertaining to lifesaving, communications, firefighting and deck safety equipment such as ensuring fuel connections aren't leaking, checking hydraulic connections, checking for ignition sources, hot surfaces, electrical installations, having smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed, being equipped with a deck or fire pump, and communications equipment, etc. "We recommend that your EPIRB be GPS-enabled," he explains. "Some EPIRBs come with internal GPS so when it gets activated, its internal GPS acquires a signal and it sends that position, along with that distress signal, to the satellite. It speeds up your position accuracy as much as 30 minutes, and also with regard to your position itself, it can narrow it down to less than 30 square meters."

Another significant aspect of the ASCP pertains to hull maintenance, including internal and external out-of-the-water surveys. "Most vessel owners we have talked to already perform regular hull surveys," Rudolph explains. "But surprisingly, some don't, so we encourage them to take a look at what has been developed thus far so they are not caught off guard when it is eventually implemented."

Fishermen can access the free guidebook, review the latest policy information and safety alerts, in addition to downloading a safety checklist to prepare for a Dockside Exam at

Injury Epidemiologist Dr. Devin Lucas of the Western States Division of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that for the most recent five-year period studied (2011-2015), there were 181 occupational deaths in the US fishing industry, an average of 36 per year.

These deaths were caused by a number of factors that include:

• Vessel disasters: 74 deaths (41% of total)

• Falls overboard: 53 deaths (29%)

• On-board fatalities: 31 deaths (17%) these are deaths that occurred onboard the vessels caused by things like entanglement in deck machinery, struck by gear, falls from height, unintentional drug overdoses, suicides, homicides.

• Diving fatalities: 14 (8%) of these are deaths of dive-harvesters and fishermen diving to work on their boat.

• On-shore facilities: 9 (5%) of these are falls into water from docks, or a fishermen killed while doing work on shore.

Dr. Lucas also reports that NIOSH has a new study underway on non-fatal injuries in the Alaskan fishing industry that is collecting and linking data from three different sources: US Coast Guard reports, Alaska Trauma Registry, and Alaska Fishermen's Fund. "This new study is in the initial stages, and we hope to have results published within a year from now," he says.

Dr. Lucas also notes that the wearing of appropriate safety gear can help reduce the risk of death during emergencies such as vessel disasters and falls overboard. "We know that none of the fishermen who died from falls overboard were wearing Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs). NIOSH continues to recommend that fishermen wear PFDs on deck," he says.

Vancouver, BC-based Survitec Group has expanded its global reach by acquiring two companies that complement its mission to be a global leader in safety and survival equipment. Just over a year ago, the company acquired the British lifeboat safety innovator Survival Craft Inspectorate. Late last year, the Safety Division of Wilhelmsen was acquired in order to expand the line of safety products, particularly for fire safety.

Fishermen donning survival suits on the deck of a fishing vessel. Photo courtesy of AMSEA.

Mark Hansen, Survitec's VP of Sales Canada, Central & South America, reports that with regard to Canadian commercial fishermen, Transport Canada recently made amendments to its regulations for carrying safety equipment aboard vessels that are not over 150 gross tonnage or more than 24.4 meters long. The new fishing vessel Inspection Regulations will become effective July 13, 2017. In general, these smaller-sized vessels will be required to either carry a life raft and/or immersion suits and EPIRBs, depending on how far they transit offshore.

"We're happy to see these changes, which will make fishing safer," he says, noting that while he has seen more emphasis on safety over the years in the industry, some old-school fishermen are still reluctant to adopt a safety culture.


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