The Boats & Gear blog explores new construction projects, electronics, gear and equipment with contributions from Jean Paul Vellotti (NF B&G editor) and Michael Crowley (former B&G editor).
Written by Jen Finn
July 27, 2010
America’s fishermen are a pretty diverse lot with Norwegian, Italian, Vietnamese, French, Croatian, Portuguese, Irish — just to name a few — backgrounds, all fishing a multitude of gear types from boats with very different designs. Some fishermen are out for a day and others stay out weeks at a time. There are fishermen who are slow to accept new ideas, and fishermen who are more willing to try something new. In some fisheries you can make a lot of money, some not so much, and in others it’s a battle to pay for the fuel.
Despite their differences, one habit seems common to all fishermen: the refusal to wear a PFD. That’s what fishermen from Maine to Alaska seem to be doing — and it’s killing them.
That’s a pretty safe statement, because of the 155 commercial fishermen who died after falling overboard between the years 2000 and 2009 NONE were wearing a PFD.
That’s just one depressing statistic among many in a study on fishing vessel fatalities by Jennifer Lincoln and Devin Lucas with the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health in Anchorage, Alaska. A summary of the work is in the July 16, 2010, issue of the aptly named “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A number of fishermen who died after going over the side were working alone, so what caused the accident will never be known, but 43 cases were the result of “slips or trips,” 34 were due to “losing their balance,” and 21 died from “gear entanglement.”
There really isn’t an excuse for not wearing a PFD. After all, these aren’t the cork life preservers of World War II. Those were definitely something to avoid. After a survey of men who had been on torpedoed tankers and freighters, a report was issued in 1942 that said not to “trust your life to the cork preserver… Men who have jumped overboard wearing cork preservers have had ribs, arms, and shoulders broken. The front of the preserver strikes the chin, knocking the wearer unconscious.”
We are not even talking about the PFDs of several years ago. Those could be a little bulky. Modern PFDs, like Mustang Survival’s MD3188 inflatable work vest, are lightweight, can be worn under foul-weather coats, will self-inflate, or can be manually inflated and are relatively easy to clean. And the Mustang PFD was designed with fishermen in mind.
These PFDs aren’t inexpensive — the Mustang is over $300 — but you can probably knock the price down by going in with several other fishermen and buying in volume. The other option is to be on the waiting list for the 155 And Counting Club.
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