National Fisherman

Shifting gears

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

A skipper and two crewmen left at dawn one late-December day aboard a 38-footer rigged for scalloping. They planned to go about 26 miles off the New Jersey coast, fish all day and return to port just after midnight.

Early that evening, the skipper was at the helm with one of the crewmen in the wheelhouse. The other crewman was on the aft deck.

At 7 p.m., the skipper started turning to port in preparation for hauling back the dredge. According to the skipper, several 10-foot-high waves struck the vessel, swamping the aft deck. The vessel started heeling to port.

The skipper told the crewman on deck to grab a grinder and cut the dredge cable to help alleviate the port list; the crewman tried to free the gear to no avail. The crewman in the wheelhouse donned a survival suit, and the boat soon capsized.

The attempts to right the vessel and the speed at which the boat was taking on water prevented the skipper from broadcasting a mayday call or donning a survival suit. The skipper and crewman kicked out the port side windows and swam to the surface. The crewman last seen on deck was nowhere in sight.

The EPIRB and life raft floated free, and the raft inflated.

The skipper swam to the raft and pulled himself in. The crewman in the survival suit had also reached the surface but didn't make it to the raft; the skipper never saw him again.

Around 7:45, the boat sank by the stern. The Coast Guard received the EPIRB transmission at about 8 p.m. and contacted the vessel's owner, who hadn't been able to contact the crew.

At around 11:30 p.m., aided by vessels on the scene, a Coast Guard helicopter sighted the life raft containing the skipper.

The helicopter retrieved the skipper and flew him shoreside, where he was treated for hypothermia and released. After 34 hours, the search for his crew members was suspended.

Lessons learned
Loss of stability or watertight integrity is a significant factor in the loss of many vessels between 30 and 79 feet long. Modifications and alterations increase a vessel's overall weight and affect its center of gravity, amount of freeboard and stability.

Deploying the scallop dredge off the port side exacerbated the list. Other possible factors include the presence of a 2,000-pound gillnet reel that normally would have been removed for scalloping. The turn to port made the vessel increasingly unstable and robbed it of most of its reserve buoyancy.

The EPIRB alert indicated to the Coast Guard that the EPIRB was registered to another vessel, initially causing some delays in contacting the boat's owner.

All 406-MHz EPIRBs must be registered with NOAA. Up-to-date registration helps rescuers find a vessel faster. Learn more about vessel stability and/or read about EPIRB operation and registration at www.fishsafe.info, and fish safe!

This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.

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