National Fisherman

The wave-swept deck

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

A man-overboard situation is one of the deadliest commercial fishing accidents. In a winter fishery, the crew has only moments to execute a rescue.

During the last week of November, an Oregon Dungeness skipper was checking equipment on his 67-foot steel boat and drilling and training his crew.

On an early December morning they left Charleston. As dawn broke on the second day of the trip, the skipper was at the helm with three of the crew on deck — one at the bait station and two tossing the 150-pound pots over the stern. The two remaining crew members were below grabbing some shuteye.

At about 7:15 a.m., a large wave swept the deck, and the crewman working the port side remembers being knocked off his feet and felt like he was "covered in white foam." As he was getting back up, he heard someone yell, "Man overboard!" Looking over the stern, he saw the other crewman in the water about 30 yards behind the boat.

The skipper also heard the man-overboard call and started to maneuver to get to the man in the water. At 7:20 he got off a mayday call to the Coast Guard.

In the meantime, the crew on deck worked to reach the man in the water with the life ring. He had stopped swimming and was having trouble keeping his head above water.

One of the crewmen prepared to jump in to assist, but another wave knocked him off his feet. The skipper brought the crabber close to the man in the water. By this time, the skipper remembers that "he was there for a moment, and then he just went down."

Within 25 minutes of the mayday call, two Coast Guard HH-65 helicopters arrived. Soon after, two motor lifeboats from Station Siuslaw River joined the search. The crabber's skipper kept searching with assistance from another vessel that responded to the mayday call.

The search went on until darkness and reduced visibility brought it to an end. The crewman was never found.

Lessons learned
Contributing factors included weather — winds from 25 to 35 knots and waves from 8 to 13 feet — fatigue and gear. Each member of the crew was getting about five hours of sleep a day plus cat naps. They were working on deck for six to 12 hours before the incident took place.

The crewmen setting pots were working on the port and starboard quarters with a rail height of just 30.5 inches.

It is believed the crewman who went overboard was wearing rubber bands around his pant legs to prevent deck water from washing into his boots. Seawater would have quickly filled his rain pants and boots, making it extremely difficult for him to remain afloat. It also would have been difficult for him to remove his rain pants with the weight of the water in his boots, combined with the bib-type shoulder straps and the fact that he was not wearing a PFD.

A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report revealed that a quarter of West Coast commercial fishing deaths from 2000 to 2009 were the result of falls overboard. None of the victims were wearing PFDs.

Newer PFD designs allow you to work without interfering with your with normal range of motion.

Keep up with your drills, look after your shipmates and wear a PFD on deck — 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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