Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Who Do You Want By Your Side at Sea?

Lessons from West Coast captains and deckhands about good crews


July 1, 2018

Unless you are one of those brave souls who fills the role of both captain and deckhand on your vessel, it is highly likely that you spend most of your time fishing in the company of others. The long and physically demanding hours spent fishing combined with the natural hazards of the sea make for a situation where crew are dependent on each other. Most importantly, crew get the catch and each other safely back to port.

In 2015 a survey was conducted by researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) in partnership with fishermen's wives, extension agents and community researchers in 9 ports along the west coast. Some of you reading this might even have participated! The survey collected responses from 426 commercial fishermen about a variety of safety and injury related topics. Fishermen who responded thought that having a good skipper and/or crew is one of the most important things for staying safe while commercial fishing. That says a lot about how serious it is to have the right people by your side out at sea.

After the survey revealed that a good crew is needed to be safe at sea, we wanted to know more about what characteristics make a good crewmember. In order to discover this, we conducted interviews with more than 50 captains and deckhands along the West Coast from Morro Bay, California to La Push, Washington. Fishermen were asked about what they looked for in crew or captains, specific duties and more. The fishermen also answered some questions to help greenhorns looking to get into commercial fishing get a better sense of what they are signing up for.

The results of these interviews provide a snapshot of opinions from fishermen with hundreds of years of collective experience and the responses were often as salty as you might imagine. The captains especially were prone to get sidetracked talking about regulations and insurance.

Here are the characteristics that captains said make a good crewmember:

1. Team player, positive attitude

2. Experience fishing, being on a vessel

3. Drug/alcohol free

4. Follows the directions of the captains

5. Good work ethic

6. Physically fit and healthy

7. First impression, appearance

8. Body Language

9. Alert and pays attention

10. Keep drama from home off of the boat

11. Responsible home life

12. Safe

On the other hand, here are the characteristics that crewmembers said they want a captain to have:

1. Experienced

2. History of being safe

3. Level-headed, positive

4. Works with crew, has open communication

5. Good track record

6. Motivated (to catch fish), hard working

7. Drug/alcohol free

8. Reliable

9. Maintains vessel and equipment

10. Successful, runs a top-earning boat

11. Has insurance, contract

12. Fit/healthy

The results of these interviews were compiled into a poster for greenhorns new to commercial fishing. The poster was created to educate greenhorns on what to expect while commercial fishing and what they can do to stay safe.

Here is what it includes:

commercial fishing duties: keep the boat clean, set and haul the gear, handle the catch, prepare the bait and gear, follow captain's orders, and stay aware of surroundings.

• Traits and skills that a captain wants a greenhorn to have: eager and motivated to learn and fish, a hard worker, has experience on boats, can tie basic knots, a team player, trustworthy, trained in marine safety, drug and alcohol free.

What to look for in a captain:

• A good communicator, serious about safety, level-headed, experienced, and responsible.

What to ask a captain:

• What are my duties?

• Who pays for food?

• What is my pay/the cost share?

• How many trips will there be and how long will they be?

What safety equipment on the vessel to look for:

• Fire extinguisher, drill log, life preservers, first aid kit, dockside exam decal.

Here are some of things fishermen told us about good crews:

(I look for a captain who is) Hardworking, honest, treats boat like it's his own, willing to learn, reliable, positive.

– Crew, Morro Bay CA

Know your limits on the boat. If you feel uncomfortable, ask about it. Follow your instincts and work with a crew you feel good about.

– Crew, Monterey CA

I look for someone with a clean reputation. By that I mean someone with a low accident history, conducts safe and responsible fishing practices and a well maintained boat. I look for skippers that are hard working and devoted, not only to the job, but to their crew and maintaining sustainable fishing practices.

– Crew, Astoria OR

Anybody can be trained if they have a good attitude, the desire to learn, and the ability to follow directions. And they must be dependable and work as part of a team.

– Captain, Astoria, OR

Most of it is chemistry; people have to be able to have good chemistry with others on the boat. Every crewmember has the same common goal- what benefits one will benefit the others as well. You need people that play well with others.

– Captain, Newport OR

Most agreed that what makes a good crew member is being a team player, always looking out for the rest of their crew and what makes a good captain is putting safety before profit and taking care of the crew. Out on the ocean, it is crucial that fishermen are able to work together for a safe and successful catch. Knowing how to stay on the vessel is just as important as knowing your knots or how to navigate the vessel.

Before you haul out next, think about ways you and your crew could be safer. Discuss the safety features on your vessel and the chemistry of your crew. Safety is something that everyone can continually improve and something that should always be on your mind, even if you're an experienced fisherman. Bottom line is, when you're hauling a crab pot out in 30-foot swell you need to be able to trust that your crew has your back!

We would like to acknowledge the contribution of our team members for interviewing fishermen: Laurel Kincl, Viktor Bovbjerg, Kaety Jacobson, Sarah Fisken, Jody Pope, Lori French, Tristan Britt, Cynthia LeDoux-Bloom, and Melissa Boyd.

Hayley Strenke, MPH is a graduate research assistant studying environmental and occupational health at Oregon State University.

Amelia Vaughan, MLIS is faculty research assistant in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University and the Project Manager of the Fishermen Led Injury Prevention Program.


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