National Fisherman

Gearing up for an emergency

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

You shouldn't depend on a good Samaritan boat being nearby, but it's always a welcome sight in an emergency.

Early on a January day, on the 12th day of a fishing trip, a 70-foot wooden-hulled shrimper was in the Gulf of Mexico, fishing out of Fort Meyers, Fla. Its veteran owner/operator, and his two new deckhands were enjoying calm weather with a visibility of two miles and a temperature of 65 degrees. The deckhands hadn't worked on a vessel of this size.

At approximately 3:30 a.m. the skipper felt the vessel hit what he described as a submerged object. Soon after, he noticed his boat was taking on water. The skipper discovered the vessel's tail shaft had snapped inside the shaft log. He engaged his pumps, which seemed to be keeping up with the flooding. At approximately 4 a.m., the skipper alerted the Coast Guard of his situation. He also called another fishing vessel he knew was nearby and asked for a tow.

At about 5:30 a.m., the other fishing vessel arrived to tow the shrimper. But the relatively calm weather worsened after a few hours of towing. Waves were reaching 6 to 7 feet, and 20-knot winds blew out of the northwest. The battering caused the tail end of the shrimper's shaft and the prop to break loose. With water coming in faster now, and the shrimper's deckhands beginning to panic, the two fishing vessels pulled alongside each other. The deckhands were transferred onto the other vessel and two more portable pumps were put on the shrimper to battle the increased rate of flooding. Within about an hour, the shrimper lost power, and the skippers of both vessels decided to try towing the shrimper to calmer water.

At about 4:25 p.m., it was apparent the shrimper was sinking. With the shrimper's skipper now on the other vessel, the tow was cut. Within five minutes, the shrimper sank. The next morning the shrimp boat crew was delivered back to its home port; no one on either vessel sustained any injuries.

Lessons learned

Good Samaritan boats aren't always nearby. One way to be prepared is to make sure you have all required safety gear.

You can get a good start by focusing on what many in the industry refer to as the Big Five: survival craft, PFDs/immersion suits, distress signals, EPIRBs and fire extinguishers.

If you don't know exactly what equipment you're supposed to have, how many of each type or when you're supposed to inspect and test the equipment on your vessel, then contact your local Coast Guard Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator for a voluntary dockside exam. The purpose of the exam is to check that the vessel is in compliance with all requirements, promote vessel safety within the fishing fleet, and to educate fishermen about specific safety requirements. For more information visit and look under Regional Contacts for the safety coordinator nearest you. Or call your local Coast Guard unit. Be prepared; fish safe!

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