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.

A halibut schooner pulled up next to a Soviet factory trawler in the Gulf of Alaska. A rifle emerged from the schooner’s wheelhouse window and fired shots at the trawler’s bridge.

The skipper of another halibut schooner planted himself smack dab in front of an oncoming Soviet factory trawler, its nets out, dragging the bottom. The halibut schooner had set its gear: 10 strings, six skates to a string — with hundreds of baited hooks — lying on the bottom. A flagpole bobbing across the tops of rolling swells marked the ends of each string.

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On Sept. 20, 2012, the 107-foot Moonlight Maid sank about 55 miles south of Seward, Alaska. No lives were lost, but it was a sinking that didn’t have to happen.

The 72-year-old Moonlight Maid had a fairly long life for a wooden fishing boat. She was built in 1942 at Peterson Boat Works in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., as the USS PC-0536, a 110-foot sub-chaser. After its wartime duties ended, the sub-chaser was transferred to the Coast Guard and renamed the Air Cormorant.

Then in 1951 a Seattle fisherman purchased the Air Cormorant, changed the name to Moonlight Maid and lopped off three feet of her length. Ownership changed several times, but for the past 30 years or so, the Moonlight Maid was operating out of Valdez, Alaska, as a salmon tender for the Prince William Sound salmon fleet, from late May to early September.

It’s not a fishery where a boat is going to suffer a lot of abuse, and weather wise it takes place during a mild time of year.

The Moonlight Maid had undergone some extensive repairs. Two years before she sank, the owners replaced 40 planks and rebuilt the transom. The repairs were said to have “addressed the worst rot and damage the boat currently had but did not address everything,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board Marine Accident Brief.

In September 2012, the Moonlight Maid’s deck was repaired, but the repairs did not address the “most serious recommendations” from the previous work. That included framing that should have been replaced.

On the morning of Sept. 20, the Moonlight Maid steamed away from Seward and out Resurrection Bay toward Kodiak 175 miles away. She was running into seas up to 12 feet, and the wind gusted to 27 knots.

Seven hours later, water was rising in a space before the engine room and a 3- to 4-foot length of planking was missing on the port side, and another section, 10 to 12 feet long, was loose. Four hours later the crew got into the life raft, and about two hours after that a Coast Guard helicopter hoisted them off the raft.

The Moonlight Maid sank in 100 fathoms of water near Seal Rock. Again, it didn’t have to end that way. Take care of a wooden boat and it can fish for a long time. A good example is the halibut schooners, several of which are more than 100 years old.

In all probability the planking let go because the frames were rotten and, perhaps, the fastenings were corroded. If you don’t maintain a boat — any boat, not just a wood boat — she will sink. As the NTSB determined, “contributing to the hull failure was inadequate maintenance of the aging wooden vessel.”

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From a safety standpoint, I suspect the biggest problem many fishermen have is a lack of self-awareness. Once the boat pulls away from the dock, their view of the world is limited by the space between the bow and stern and the sides of the boat. It’s an area most fishermen are comfortable in, and many don’t want to think about what lies beyond those boundaries.

2014 0501 PFDYears ago when I was fishing, that was certainly the case before the start of one season when we needed to have the halibut schooner’s life raft inspected. But after a not-so-lucrative previous season, the skipper didn’t want to pay for the inspection. And besides, he said, “We won’t need it.”

At the other end of the spectrum, I’m reminded of reading about the first Portuguese who came to Gloucester, Mass., to fish on the local schooners. They are supposed to have put lead inserts in their boots. If they did go overboard the trip to the bottom would be quick, thus avoiding unnecessary anxiety at the surface because they knew they wouldn’t be rescued.

These days I’m not aware of any lead-insert advocates, but there are still plenty of fishermen not prepared for the time when they end up outside their comfort zone — bow, stern and the connecting railings. If you are different and think you should be prepared, there are other fishermen who won’t hesitate giving you grief for your unconventional ways.

Fortunately Bob Raymond, a Cape Elizabeth, Maine, lobsterman who works out of a 20-foot fiberglass skiff, turned a deaf ear toward fishermen questioning the use of the life jacket he’s worn for years.

Raymond’s story was related in a blog by Chris Shorr on the Bangor Daily News site. In April, Raymond was hauling traps in Dyer Cove along an area known for its rocks and ledges. Just as the wind picked up, his engine quit, the boat went sideways to the oncoming seas, and it wasn’t long before Raymond was in the water.

The current and seas slung him toward a nearby ledge. He turned his back to the ledge and used the life jacket as a cushion when he was slammed against the rocks.

Raymond didn’t have much going for him except for the life vest: “Without that vest I would have been dragged under and been gone,” he told Shorr. (The use of a life jacket or PFD as a cushion isn’t a selling point used by safety gear manufacturers, but it obviously came in handy here.)

When another wave tossed him at the same ledges, he turned around just after hitting the rock and hung on. He started yelling for help and this is when things get bizarre. Tourists rushed down from the Lobster Shack, a local seafood restaurant, but instead of helping him they stopped, pulled out their phones and cameras and started taking pictures of Raymond.

Finally someone from the Coast Guard who happened to be on vacation came over and helped him.

Raymond said he was not only glad to be alive, but “I’m happy I ignored all those guys who made fun of my life jacket all those years.”

Photo: Maine lobsterman Bob Raymond proves that personal safety gear, like this life vest, is worth the grief; NIOSH

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You would hope if politicians in the nation’s capital aim to devise legislation that will have a significant impact on the design and construction of commercial fishing boats, the politicians would take the time to get the opinion of those most affected — fishermen, boatbuilders and naval architects.

2014 0322 SeinersSo far, that has not been the case for the section of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 that requires boats 50 feet and over built after July 1, 2013, to be classed.

What mystical gurus the politicians were consulting is unclear, but it wasn’t fishermen, boatbuilders and naval architects. If they had, then the United Fishermen of Alaska, which represents at least 36 fisheries groups in the state, would not have come out with a resolution stating, “The United Fishermen of Alaska do not support mandatory classification of fishing vessels that are at least 50 feet in length overall built after July 1, 2013.”

The resolution of Feb. 21, 2014, opposing the classification regulation lists several complaints naval architects and boatbuilders have already raised: The cost for building a classed boat could be 25 to 30 percent more than a boat built before July 1, 2013. Fishermen will end up keeping their old boat or building a boat shorter than 50 feet. In either case it “will make the Alaskan fishing fleet less safe.”

A justification for the idea of classing boats is to make them safer. But, as is clear from the above quote, an important segment of this country’s fishing industry thinks the opposite will happen. In fact, Alaska’s fishermen will tell you that boats over 50 feet — especially the 58-foot class — are quite safe.

Further, the resolution states that the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Advisory Committee “does not support survey and classification requirements for new vessels that are at least 50 feet in overall length.”

Congress established the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Advisory Committee in 1988 to advise the Coast Guard and Congress on fishing boat safety issues. It would seem logical that a politician might have checked in with this committee, with representatives from the East and West coasts, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. It doesn’t appear to have happened.

So now the United Fishermen of Alaska has taken their resolution opposing classification of fishing vessels over 50 feet to Alaska’s federal delegation.

“We’ve been working with our congressional delegation on this issue,” says Julianne Curry, UFA’s executive director. “They are very aware of how the United Fishermen of Alaska feel about this issue.”

Curry also notes, “We know it’s a countrywide problem and not just an Alaska problem.” That’s the key to turning back the classification ruling: fisheries organizations from around the country putting pressure on their senators and representatives. Otherwise, we truly might have a segment of the fishing fleet that’s suddenly not as safe as it has been.

Photo: The 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

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Over the course of two summers, Shannon Ford attended two funerals, both for salmon fishermen who went into the water and drowned. That isn’t unusual for Alaska’s salmon fishermen: 47 salmon fishermen perished between 2000 and 2012 in man-overboard accidents.

2014 0417 ShannonFord — who runs a setnet operation on Bristol Bay from her aluminum skiff, Paul Revere — and her two crewmen, Don Ward and Tyler Schuldt, could have bumped that number up to 50 on the night of June 26, 2010, when the Paul Revere, having hung up a setnet line, was swamped by a wave, then flipped over on top of Ford, Ward and Schuldt.

The only reason their fellow fishermen didn’t go to funerals for the trio is because they were wearing Mustang self-inflatable PFDs. For two hours the PFDs kept them afloat until first Ward and then Schuldt and Ford were able to stumble ashore and get help.

It’s a saga aptly captured in the just released video from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health: “Paul Revere: A Story of Survival in Bristol Bay.” It’s available on the NIOSH website and at NIOSH’s YouTube channel. (See NF's coverage here.)

The 10-minute video starts with Ford and Ward relating the events that led to the skiff’s overturning and then describing how, while being carried along by a strong current, they managed to stick together and devise a plan of action.

They could spend time taking stock of their situation, said Ward, and figuring out what to do to get out of the water, instead of worrying about staying afloat and conserving energy, because the PFDs were keeping them afloat.

“Instantly it molds to you and holds in your core heat while supporting your head,” said Ford. “And it’s a mental boost: I can concentrate on directing us towards shore. None of our energy or mental focus was wasted.”

But watch the video for yourself as they describe passing numerous setnet camps, all the while signaling with a flashlight, yelling and firing off  rounds from a 357 handgun — all to no avail.

Looking beyond Alaska, that 2000 to 2012 figure for man-overboard fatalities is 191 nationwide. Only one was wearing a PFD.

Setnet capsize survivors Don Ward, Shannon Ford and Tyler Schuldt proudly display their Mustang Survival PFDs; Kenneth Becker

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Just when you thought you were set up for new equipment and wouldn’t be spending anymore money on gear, here are a couple of soon-to-be released products you might start saving for.

David Liebenberg and Willem Sandberg, described as a couple of college kids from Somerville, Mass., were at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum this spring, handing out brochures on the Trap Saver they had designed.

2014 0408 TrapSaverThe Trap Saver reduces the amount of traps lost from the buoy line being cut by a prop on a passing boat. (The average trap loss is around 12 percent or $8,000, for a lobsterman running 800 traps.)

The Trap Saver is attached to the buoy line on its own length of rope. Negative buoyancy keeps it below the depth of a passing boat. When the line is cut, the Trap Saver sinks to the bottom. There, a balloon deploys and floats the rope to the surface. You pick up the balloon and haul your string of traps aboard. (See www.trapsaver.com or (203) 554-0993 for more information.)

Future product number two is the Knight Underwater Bearing, designed by Maine fisherman Rick Knight Jr., who is also a marine engineer.

The beauty of the KUB is that when it’s time to change out the shaft bearing that’s just before the propeller, you don’t have to haul your boat to remove the prop, and then go at the bearing with hacksaws, clamps and a hydraulic press. And it eliminates the few times when a shaft and rudder have to come off.

2014 0408 KUBIn fact, the boat can stay in the water while a diver or two with socket wrenches can replace one of Knight’s bearings in a fraction of the time it would take otherwise.

The KUB’s secret is that it’s a split bearing. Just remove eight through-bolts, and the retainers holding the bearing halves come off, exposing the bearing. Remove the bearings, inspect the shaft, put the new bearing on, bolt the retainers in place, and you are good to go.

KUB also has alternative waterflow ports. When rope gets wrapped around the shaft, choking off the aft end of the bearing, water still flows through the bearing. (See www.kubearing.com or (207) 251-0001.)

Both products are still waiting for production to begin, likely by summer.

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The Transportation Safety Board of Canada recently released a report on the collision of the 90-foot Canadian trawler Viking Storm and the 40-foot longliner Maverick about 30 miles off La Push, Wash., on Sept. 28, 2012. One crewman on the Maverick drowned when the boat sank within minutes of the collision. The Viking Storm rescued the Maverick’s remaining three crewmen.

2014 0326 maverickAs is often the case, this accident was the result of a cascade of problems: The Maverick was drifting with the crew asleep and no one in the wheelhouse; in limited visibility, the crewman in the Viking Storm’s wheelhouse left to get something to eat; the Viking Storm, besides running with its navigation lights on, also was using its high-pressure sodium lights. The lights blinded a crewman on the Maverick who had gotten up to use the head, so he couldn’t react to take evasive action as the Viking storm closed in on the Maverick in near-zero visibility.

Another risk factor, which might not be considered a risk, was the use of the Viking Storm’s automatic identification system. The mate on the Viking Storm was primarily focusing his attention on the AIS to minimize the possibility of a collision. Even though a target was showing on the radar 4 to 5 miles ahead, he wasn’t using the radar to plot the target.

2014 0326 vikingstormOf course, a problem with relying on AIS is that boats without AIS won’t be displayed on your screen. The Maverick didn’t have AIS, so the mate on the Viking Storm wouldn’t have seen it.

As the Transportation Safety Board’s report reads: “If AIS are used for vessel detection and collision avoidance without the use of other collision avoidance tools, vessels fitted with AIS and those without may be at risk."


Photos: The Maverick (top), a 40-foot longliner, and the Viking Storm (bottom), a 90-foot Canadian trawler, collided off La Push, Wash., in 2012; Transportation Safety Board of Canada

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“They need to see you to get you, and flares don’t do that,” says Jim O’Meara of North American Survival Systems, giving advice on an at-sea rescue. What’s the best way to bring someone to your position?

All seagoing commercial boats and larger pleasure boats are required to carry a type of pyrotechnic distress signal — usually flares. But a flare has a limited life span, about 4 minutes once it’s shot off.

2014 0320 Flare“Three flares onboard makes you legal,” says O’Meara, who operates out of Washington's Bainbridge Island. “Three flares are only good for 12 minutes. Nobody, ever, has been rescued in 12 minutes.”

O’Meara’s company designs and markets electronic flares and strobes to be used in rescue situations. He’s more than a little annoyed with how the Coast Guard downplays the usefulness of electronic flares and strobes.

The Coast Guard refers to them as electronic visual distress signal devices, and in a non-pyrotechnic flares marine information note [MIN 464 (M+F)], O’Meara feels their role is downplayed in a search and rescue situation.

The Coast Guard says it is researching their effectiveness, but they can’t be carried as a substitute for pyrotechnic flares “on vessels to which mandatory carriage applies.”

At the end of the marine information note and almost as an afterthought, it’s written that an “EDVS may be carried and used as a locating device, though their limitations should be recognized.”

Because of the short period a flare is visible, O’Meara says, it is “inherently flawed, but the word has never gotten out that you can have something in addition to a flare.”

When a flare goes off, “you know someone is in trouble over there, but then it goes out, and you’ve got to be able to find them.” Instead of a 4-minute life span, O’Meara says a strobe light is good for “12 hours or better and can be seen from five to 10 miles away. That’s what you want to have to be rescued.” It’s why he calls an electronic flare or strobe a “critical distress signal.”

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Of course, let’s hope you never have a fire aboard your boat. But if you are going to have one, perhaps you’ll be lucky enough that it will be when the boat is tied to the dock, like the 100-foot trawler that had a welding-related fire while tied up at Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal in May 2013.

At least then, you can step off the boat and onto the dock. At sea, your escape options are far more limited.

2014 BG 0313 fireThere are plenty of opportunities for a fire on a fishing boat. Just about any boat “is a floating ignition source,” says Randy Hyde, senior firefighting instructor at Fremont Maritime Services in Seattle. And there are plenty of ignition sources, especially in the engine room and machinery spaces.

Hyde lists several causes of fire. One is poor housekeeping, which is another way of saying you are slacking off if flammable liquid containers aren’t properly stored. If you leave oily rags around, there’s the risk of spontaneous combustion. If you allow oil to accumulate in the engine room bilge, you are asking for trouble.

Then there’s poor maintenance that results in leaky high-pressure fuel lines. Once the fuel drips or is sprayed on a hot surface you have a fire. The leak might be caused by vibration, a clamp rubbing against a pipe or old fittings that should have been replaced a long time ago.

Hyde says one of the major causes of fires “is a lack of due vigilance.” That means you and the rest of the crew have a lack of situational awareness or sense of urgency. The crew is poorly trained and poorly equipped.

The answer to these shortcomings is a good fire prevention plan, which at least means being vigilant about housekeeping and maintenance issues.

Just in case everything goes to hell, your fixed fire-suppression system, portable extinguishers and any fire pumps have to be in good working order if you hope to save the boat and yourself.

And don’t forget to sound the alarm, letting everyone know there’s a fire. But with due vigilance, hopefully none of this is ever an issue.

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Once again the faithful showed up. A land layered with extreme cold, ice and frozen snow didn’t keep them away; if anything it was a very good reason to leave the boat, gear repairs and planning for the coming fishing season to make the annual trek to the Samoset Resort in Rockland, Maine, for the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, held Feb. 27, 28 and March 1.

Just outside the doors leading into the Forum stood a Mitchell Cove 35 hull and top from Journeys End Marina. Leaning against the transom was a ladder, allowing a would-be buyer to climb aboard and check it out.

Inside the hall on Saturday morning was a meeting of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. What that group and a future owner of the Mitchell Cove have in common is that they fish out of a traditional monohull. It’s a boat design all fishermen take for granted. No questions asked.

Well, not quite. Inside the Forum halls were two booths whose occupants, if they have their way, would see what is probably the most traditional of all American fishermen — New England lobstermen — hauling traps from multihulled boats.

rm007Penobscot East, a group working to maintain healthy fisheries and fishing communities in Eastern Maine, was there with literature on its Green Lobster Boat.

This is a 38-foot trimaran hull designed by Doug Read at the Maine Maritime Academy. The rationale for the trimaran hull is that the traditional Maine lobster boat burns about 3,000 gallons a year and fuel costs constitute about 30 percent of a fisherman’s operating expenses.

 

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Whereas the trimaran hull will substantially reduce fuel costs, thus saving fishermen money. The initial design has been tank-tested, and a 6-foot model was recently matched up against a 6-foot model of a Holland 38 in the waters off San Diego.

Penobscot East is claiming a 20 percent fuel savings up to 16 knots, though results of the testing weren’t in evidence at the booth and some people wanted to see the results of the testing before it would be believed. Currently Penobscot East is looking for funding to build a full-size prototype.

In a nearby exhibit room was the Pro Cat. This is a catamaran design from a company in Ontario. It’s the second generation of this design. The first generation has been sold in England as a replacement for wood and fiberglass longliners and gillnetters. Forty of them are fishing in the North Sea out of English ports.

There are 27- and 32-foot designs; both have 16-foot 6-inch beams. Each hull has a bulbous bow, which is said to improve fuel efficiency by 40 percent over a design without bulbous bows. The initial design is powered with outboards though inboard engines can be used. Twin 150-hp outboards should give the 27-footer a 20-knot speed and twin 200-hp outboards on the 32 footer should get it up to 20 knots.

The first Pro Cat to be built in North America will be launched this summer on Lake Champlain in New York.

What are the chances of a multihull design being used by a New England — especially a Maine — lobsterman? Well, they won’t be winning any lobster boat races; that’s for sure. But if the promoters of the designs can build them at a comparable price to a monohull and get highliners in ports along the coast to try them and their reports of fuel economy and seaworthiness are favorable, then some multihull boats will be hauling gear in New England waters.

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National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live: 8/14/14

In this episode:

  • More cod cuts expected if NOAA data holds
  • Louisiana importing oysters to meet demand
  • N.C. sets new sturgeon bycatch rules
  • BP appeals to Supreme Court on spill settlement
  • Senate releases new Magnuson-Stevens draft

National Fisherman Live: 8/5/14

In this episode, National Fisherman's Boats & Gear Editor Michael Crowley talks with Frances Parrott about the Notus Dredgemaster.

Inside the Industry

PORTLAND, Maine – The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative has appointed Matt Jacobson as its new executive director.
 
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The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will convene its Red Snapper Advisory Panel Wednesday, July 30, 2014, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the council office — 2203 N. Lois Avenue, Suite 1100, in Tampa, Fla. 

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