National Fisherman

Boats & Gear 

Michael CrowleyThe Boats & Gear blog is overseen by our Boats & Gear editor, Michael Crowley. It explores new construction projects, electronics, gear and equipment for the commercial fishing industry.

Noise; heavy, awkward weights; cold, wet weather — it’s all part of a fisherman’s life. It also helps make “commercial fishing the most challenging ergonomic environment,” said Jerry Dzugan, executive director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association in a Wednesday morning talk titled “Strains, Sprains and Pains: Ergonomics in the Maritime Industry."

“Anything to do with the body is an ergonomic issue,” said Dzugan. That’s another way of saying the goal of a smart work environment is to adapt the work station to be as efficient and comfortable as possible for the workers.

2015 1118 JerryDzuganJerry Dzugan. Photo: Doug StewartA simple principle is that the further a weight is from the body the more the body is stressed. So a fish plant worker constantly bending over a large table to pull halibut to her would be better served with a narrower table so she wouldn’t have to bend over as much.

Dzugan gave several examples of proper posture when handling heavy weights and some surprising examples of the forces at play on a body. One photo showed a 6-foot 2-inch, 185-pound man reaching out to pick up a pen. Dzugan says that action has the same compressive forces on the body as lifting an 80-pound box.

Translate that to fishing and “a fisherman bending over to pick up line all day off the deck could end up with 1,000 pounds of compressive forces on his back by the end of the day,” said Dzugan.

It didn’t take long before the audience was grasping the difference between good and poor work habits. So when Dzugan offered up a photo on the screen of deck hands loading crab into a brailer and asked from ergonomic point of view what was wrong in the photo, several people pointed out that the brailer was too high. Throwing the crabs into the brailer meant the deckhands had to lift the crabs above their shoulders over and over again, risking an injury to the shoulders. The simple solution: lower the brailer.

Visit the AMSEA booth — 1128 — or their website to get your own pocket guide to ergonomics.

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Sponsoning a steel boat is not unusual. But sponsoning a fiberglass hull is a different story. Early last summer, the 56-foot fiberglass seiner Freedom left Platypus Marine in Port Angeles, Wash., after a sponsoning that pushed her beam out from 15 to 20 feet.

Today at 2:15, Platypus Marine’s Bruce Bryant will talk about the sponsoning on the East Hall’s Main Stage.

2015 1111 BG Showdaily1Bruce Bryant. Platypus Marine photo.Bryant will focus on how to make sponsoning financially feasible. Included in that discussion will be determining if sponsoning should even be considered. “Cost is the most critical factor,” Bryant says. “No sense putting expensive sponsoning on a boat that’s not worth anything.”

Bryant will explain the decision making progress from the early design stages to completion. The emphasis of the session will be on sponsoning a fiberglass hull, using the Freedom as an example, but Bryant will include steel as well.

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How safe is commercial fishing? Well, if you compare it to an earlier time, say, 1877 to 1881, it’s a lot safer. In that five-year period, 452 fishermen died and 65 fishing vessels never made it back to port. That’s just for the port of Gloucester, Mass.

2015 1104 Stability Rocker BG SafetyAMSEA uses the stability rocker in training sessions to show stability principles. AMSEA photo.Putting that five-year period up against a more recent one — 2010 to 2014 — finds that 188 fishermen died nationwide, as opposed to over 400 from a single port. That’s part of a 34 percent decline in commercial fishing fatalities between 2000 and 2014, based on figures from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

While the fatality numbers from the 1800s and the fatality figures for the 21st century are fortunately very different, the leading causes are similar: man overboard, stability issues and flooding. “If those problems could be eliminated,” says Jerry Dzugan with the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association in Sitka, “you would cut the fatality rates in the fisheries by almost 80 percent.” He’s quoted in “A Way of Life” in the December issue of National Fisherman on page 48.

In that issue, there are a couple of examples of projects to reduce the numbers of fatalities due to stability and man overboard issues. One is AMSEA’s stability rocker that it uses in its training courses to help fishermen visualize stability concepts.

The other is a pilot project led by Julie Sorensen with the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety in Cooperstown, N.Y., to understand the barriers to wearing PFDs among lobstermen in Maine and Massachusetts.

Part of that study is not only figuring out why fishermen don’t wear PFDs but why marine supply stores don’t carry PFDs appropriate for fishermen.

The December story features one PFD designed specifically for fishermen. That’s Kent Safety Products Rogue flotation vest. Check out “A Way of Life.” That Kent PFD might be for you.

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The Coast Guard has had several regulations pending. The first deadline just passed. It was Oct. 15 and required your boat to complete a mandatory dockside safety examination. Three more are due by the end of March. If you miss any of them it just might cost you a bunch of money and loss of fishing time. Fortunately, there are a couple of events coming up that should make it easier and perhaps cheaper to meet the requirements.

2015 0928 SAFETYPetty officer Fernando Brown out of Portland, Ore., heads out for another day of safety inspections. Michael Rudolph photo.A regulation that won’t affect that many boat owners requires fishing boats to be equipped with a VHF radiotelephone installation, which must have DSC capability. However, it only applies to boats of 300 gross tons or more.

The DSC equipped VHF has to be hooked up by Jan. 20, 2016. The regulation applies to boats operating within 20 miles of the East, West, and Gulf coasts, as well as Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands. However, Alaska isn’t included, as it does not yet have the infrastructure to support digital selective calling.

A pending requirement due to affect far more fishermen concerns survival equipment and is scheduled to start Feb. 16, 2016. This is part of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 that was to have gone into effect Jan. 1, 2015 but was put off until this coming February.

By Feb. 15, if you don’t have a survival raft that “ensures that no part of an individual is immersed in the water” and you fish outside of three miles, you probably will find your boat tied to the dock.

In other words, ditch that World War II-type raft with its buoyant ring around the outside and webbing stretched across the inside. And get rid of any buoyant apparatus designed to support people in the water.

The last ruling requires commercial fishing boats 65 feet or longer to have an Automatic Identification System installed by March 2, 2016.

The benefit of AIS is that it enhances your awareness of boats operating nearby — as long as they also have an AIS unit — and those same boats know where you are.

Only class-B AIS is required though you can opt for the more effective class-A. The Coast Guard estimates that this ruling affects 2,906 fishing boats.

That many potential sales might be why ACR has just come out with new class-A and class-B AIS transceivers. They are the AISLink CA1 and AISLink CB1. It might also be part of the reason a Swedish outfit received type approval to market its class-B AIS unit starting this summer. It’s the CTRX Graphene.

No matter if you are looking for a VHF radio, inflatable lifesaving equipment an AIS unit or all three, it would be best to buy it as soon as possible, thus avoiding that last minute rush and maybe having to accept a product that’s not your first choice. Again, if you don’t meet the Coast Guard requirement, you will probably pay a penalty for noncompliance.

An event making the task of avoiding being shut down by the Coast Guard easily avoidable and perhaps saving you money on the new equipment is Pacific Marine Expo held in Seattle Nov. 18 – 20. More than 450 exhibitors will be there and many will be carrying just the gear that meets the Coast Guard’s new regulations.

If you miss that event, there’s always the International WorkBoat Show in New Orleans on Dec. 1 -3. Both shows have great shopping opportunities with chances to compare products for both features and price.

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Owning a fishing boat can be a long journey, one marked with storms survived, full fish holds and with any luck, a few deck loads. Those are the ones you like to spin tales around — “Remember when we plugged the (fill in the blank)? She was so low in the water the guys on the dock thought she would sink.”

There’s also apt to be some broker trips where you don’t clear expenses and the crew ends up in the hole. After you’ve been in the game for any length of time, you’ll be developing a close relationship with a boatyard.

2015 1007 BG missbirdieThe Miss Birdie gets a complete overhaul at Fred Wahl Marine Construction. Fred Wahl Marine Construction photo.Equipment breaks down and needs replacing, and if you are in a very competitive fishery you are likely to want the boat lengthened, sponsoned or both. Throw in a repower or two and you’ve written out a few large checks.

Eventually, you have to make a decision: do a major rebuild or buy a new boat. Even with an extensive rebuild, some of the boat is still going to be old. Money is obviously a key factor. Do you want to — can you afford to — pay for a new boat?

That was the decision Stan Schones, the owner of the 77-foot Miss Berdie, was faced with in 2014. It was probably the toughest decision Schones has made on his journey with the Miss Berdie, which started when she was built in 1987 at Rodriquez Boat Builders in Bayou LaBatre, Ala.

It’s a story that’s told in “Wahl Overhaul” in the November issue of National Fisherman on page 30. “Wahl,” of course, refers to Fred Wahl Marine Construction where the Miss Berdie has made more than one appearance, starting back in 1992. The most recent began in November 2014.

The original idea was no more extensive than a sponsoning and repowering. What took place was entirely different, because as Wahl said, “Everywhere we went. We had to tear something else apart.”

Not much of the boat that showed up in Reedsport went back in the water. But what did go in the water seems perfectly capable of embarking upon the next stage of the Miss Berdie and Stan Schones long journey.

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OK, so you don’t like some of the edicts from the Coast Guard telling you what you need on your boat to meet safety standards, and — as all your buddies know and are tired of hearing — you’ve done plenty of complaining about them lately; or maybe you think there are some areas requiring tougher laws. For one, you’d like to see more stringent standards regarding training.

Either way, here’s a chance to stop complaining and help make some changes. The Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Advisory Committee, which provides advice and makes recommendations to the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security regarding the operation of commercial fishing boats, is looking for applicants to fill six positions that will become available in May 2016.

2015 0928 SAFETYPetty officer Fernando Brown out of Portland, Ore., heads out for another day of safety inspections. Michael Rudolph photo.You will have to go to at least one meeting a year. This year’s meeting just concluded in Seattle. The issue discussed included the Alternate Compliance Program, survival craft issues, mandatory exams and training. You’ll also be on a committee requiring you to communicate with other members of the committee.

You will be signing up for a three-year term with no more than two terms served consecutively. There’s no pay for being on the committee but you will get reimbursed for travel and per diem expenses.

Four of the six positions are open to people from the commercial fishing industry; one is open to someone from the general public familiar with the fishing industry, and the sixth is for a naval architect and marine engineer with knowledge of fishing boats and fishing communities.

You will need to send a cover letter to Jack Kemerer, chief of the Coast Guard’s Fishing Vessel Safety Division. Included should be “a resume and a discussion about why they think they should be appointed and their experience,” says Kemerer. The application needs to be completed before Nov. 17, 2015 according to the announcement in the Federal Register.

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OK, you’ve got a boat built in the 1980s or early ’90s. It’s old, the steel has some bad spots and you can’t pack enough product to be competitive. And there are some safety issues.

There are two immediate options, build a new boat or sponson and lengthen what you’ve got. But even after sponsoning and lengthening, much of the boat is still old — tired steel and welds. The same goes for the machinery, piping and electrical systems. Even the sea valves are old. How long has it been since you’ve serviced those? A sea valve lets go and you can be in big trouble.

2014 0322 SeinersThe 58-foot Isle Dominator and Magnus Martens tied up at Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal shortly after being launched in 2013 from Fred Wahl Marine Construction in Reedsport, Ore. Jessica Hathaway photo.But building new? Hell, who can afford it, now that boats 50 feet and over have to be classed? That could jack the price up by 30 to 40 percent. Another option is to build a boat just under 50 feet, but you don’t want to do that because you fish a lot in heavy weather and you’d feel safer in a bigger boat.

What to do?

Well there may be another option. Currently, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have passed bills for the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015 that amend the previous Coast Guard Authorization Act that contains the classification ruling.

The Senate bill covers boats from 50 to 190 feet overall length built after Jan. 1, 2016. A registered professional engineer must design the boat to standards equivalent to those prescribed by a classification society.

Since many naval architects already design to ABS standards, it would appear that’s all that’s needed. There’s no mention of classification society approval or active involvement. So classification societies and their accompanying costs are removed from the project.

The same goes for overseeing the building of the boat. A marine surveyor, not someone from a classification society, can be the person in charge.

The bill out of the House of Representatives focuses on boats 50 to 79 feet built after July 1, 2017, and says only that, “the vessel complies with an alternative safety compliance program.” No mention of a classification society.

Now the House and Senate have to work out the differences between the two bills. There’s always the chance that they won’t be able to come to a common agreement. and then classifying boats 50 feet and over will still be in effect. Hopefully that won’t happen. By the end of the year we should know the outcome.

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I admit it. I don’t like heights and I don’t enjoy having to swim in cold water. That eliminates a lot of useful or exciting life choices: anything having to do with climbing rocks taller than I am, surfing in New England (Southern California or Tahiti would be great), flying in small airplanes and helicopters — especially helicopters. I couldn’t imagine being a Coast Guard rescue swimmer free-falling out a helicopter’s open door, into cold, cold Alaskan water to save the lives of hapless fishermen. 

2015 0902 BG rescueswimmerThe crew of the tender Kupreanof abandon ship as it sinks off the coast of Alaska. Screen grab from Coast Guard video.Fortunately, some people thrive in that environment; otherwise a lot of fishermen wouldn’t be around today. Thus on Sept. 2, the Coast Guard Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the education and welfare of all Coast Guard members and their families, recognized four members of a Coast Guard rescue team for their role in saving the crew of the tender Kupreanof. The rescue team was composed of Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Stoeckler, Lt. Benjamin Neal, AET2 Jamie Flood and AST2 Jason Yelvington.

On June 8, 2015, the Kupreanof was going from Petersburg, Alaska, to Bristol Bay, where the 73-footer would work as a tender, when the captain sent out a message at 3:45 a.m. saying the Kurpreanof was taking on water off Lituya Bay.

That’s when a Coast guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter was dispatched from Sitka on a 130-mile flight to find the Kupreanof in what was described as poor visibility, heavy wind, driving rain and 6-foot seas.

When the helicopter arrived, the Kupreanof was partially submerged with a life raft attached to the boat’s stern. The crew had gotten into survival suits. Assessing the situation from about 80 feet above the water, Stoeckler, the helicopter’s pilot, told them to abandon ship.

Then Yelvington, the rescue swimmer, dropped out of the helicopter and into the water and helped the crew climb into the life raft. However, it was deemed too risky to hoist the crew directly from the life raft up to the helicopter because the rotor wash might blow the raft back into the sinking boat.

Thus one-by-one, Yelvington took the crew from the raft to where they could get in the rescue basket and then be lifted to the helicopter. All the while, Yelvington’s job was made difficult by fumes from diesel fuel than covered the water.

As the last basket was being hoisted into the helicopter, the Kupreanof sank, taking the raft with it. Emergency medical personnel checked out the four crewmen and Yelvington; other than exposure to diesel fumes there weren’t any medical issues.

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Go to any of the Maine lobster boat races and you’ll find a collection of characters. There’s the fisherman racing a strictly working lobster boat. There’s nothing special about the engine; it’s got power enough to go to the grounds and back, and in between haul as many traps as necessary. Even though he knows he probably won’t win, he’s like most Down East lobstermen and just loves boats, engines, the noise of a race and a general good time.

Then there’s the guy pushing the envelope a little bit by dumping a lot of money into a big engine; I mean, who needs a 1,000 horsepower engine to haul traps? Well, you need that horsepower if you crave racing and everything that goes with it — the nervousness, the noise, the speed and the excitement. He knows he has to use that engine every working day, but it’s sized mostly with racing in mind.

2015 0819 WILD WOMAN-MISS KARLEEStevie Johnson's Wild Woman takes Miss Karlee at the Long Island lobster boat races. Jon Johansen photo.Then there are those who fudge things a lot more in their desire to win. They claim one horsepower rating, yet it doesn’t seem possible they are staying up with or beating boats with engines acknowledged to be much more powerful. Those are the guys people are always wondering about.

 What’s common to the three sets of lobstermen is that for an afternoon in the spotlight they risk destroying an engine that they earn their daily living with. And that’s all right — well maybe not after they send a piston out the side of a block, but in the moment, it’s fine.

Then there are the so-called “toy boats.” These look like lobster boats but aren’t used for lobstering. There’s no attempt to disguise the fact that what looks like a stock engine on the outside is anything but on the inside. The engine might run propane, nitrous oxide or have been sent to a speed shop and returned with components most lobstermen couldn’t afford and many have never heard of.

Then there’s Stevie Johnson, a Long Island, Maine, boatbuilder whose whimsical take on racing always gets attention. Back in 2009, Johnson had the “cah-boat” — eliminating the “r” in Maine-speak — which was a 26-foot cabin cruiser with its top cut off and replaced with a deck. A 1994 Pontiac Sunbird convertible was chained down to the deck. A couple of 200-hp outboards hung from the transom and Johnson steered from the Pontiac’s front seat.

 He also has shown up at races in the Tiki boat, which is, as the name suggests, nothing more than a Caribbean bar powered by outboards.

Then at last Saturday’s Maine lobster boat race held at Long Island, Johnson came up to the starting line in his latest creation, the Wild Woman, a “sailing” race boat. Sailing is in quotations because it’s not really a sailboat. It’s a 28-foot O’Day sailboat, cut off at the waterline and then fiberglassed down to what was the platform for the cah-boat. A pair of 200-hp Yamahas hangs off the stern.

Another way you know Wild Woman is not you typical O’Day sailboat is that in her race with Miss. Karlee, a Mitchell Cove with a 1,000-hp Caterpillar C18, they were bow-to-bow — in the mid-40 mph range — throughout most of the race, with Wild Woman finally taking it at the end. No wonder that race was called the “wildest race of the day.”

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Let’s say you’ve got a fiberglass fishing boat a little over 50 feet. It’s 20 to 30 years old and well worn. Plus it’s got the beam that boats of that age were built with, about 15 feet — give or take.


2015 0805 BGA 53-foot seiner being sponsoned at Platypus Marine. The starboard sponson is in place and will be matched up with the port sponson. Platypus Marine photo.
To be competitive you need a bigger boat, certainly one with more hold capacity. But to build a new boat over 50 feet requires you to work with a classification society, which means the cost might be jacked up by $200,000, $250,000.

 On the other hand, you don’t really want a boat under 50 feet because you don’t think it will be as safe as a larger boat, but, again, you don’t know if you can handle the classification society cost for a boat over 50 feet.

 What to do?

 If it was a steel boat the answer is simple — sponson her. If you’re on the West Coast there are plenty of yards that do that. It’s the primary business at Fashion Blacksmith in Crescent City, Calif. It’s what that boatyard does day in and day out.

Sponsoning a fiberglass boat, however, is different. No one is doing it on a day-in and day-out basis. Basically you are building a one-off boat and the costs are extreme. Then again, the costs might be more affordable, at least if you can get the boat to Platypus Marine in Port Angeles, Wash.

Platypus Marine recently sponsoned a 53-foot seiner built at Delta Marine. This was not a one-off project. Platypus Marine built a permanent mold from which they can take port and starboard hulls and build a new wider hull around the existing boat.

Laminating new hull sections up in the molds and then matching them up with the existing hull can probably be done for about half the cost of a conventional fiberglass sponsoning job. And it also takes a lot less time.

 To see if the sponsoned hull sections at Platypus Marine can be matched up with your boat, give them a call — (360) 417-0709.

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Inside the Industry

NMFS recently released a draft action plan for fish discard and release mortality science, creating a list of actions that they hope can better inform fisheries.

We know that fishermen have to deal with bycatch by discarding or releasing unwanted catch overboard, but there is a data gap regarding how those fish survive.


A new study has identified a set of features common to all ocean ecosystems that provide a visual diagnosis of the health of the underwater environment coastal communities rely on.

Together, the features detail cumulative effects of threats -- such as overfishing, pollution, and invasive species,  allowing responders to act faster to increase ocean resiliency and sustainability.

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