National Fisherman

In a tight spot

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

One rough winter kept Lake Michigan commercial fishing boats in port longer than usual. When vessels did venture out, the catches were meager.

One cool morning as the sun broke over the horizon, the three-man crew of a 49-foot aluminum boat shoved away from the dock. They headed toward a nearby bay where they had set their trap nets in 150 feet of water. Arriving at the spot some three miles from shore, the men began hauling their trap nets.

To their dismay, trap after trap came up either damaged, full of seaweed, or empty. Frustrated, the mate and deckhand began securing the trap nets on deck for the trip back to the dock.

Meanwhile, the skipper started pulling in the last line, the inside lead, which has two anchors to help keep the network of fish traps on the bottom. Having run the vessel for 19 years, the skipper was very familiar with the deck machinery.

As he worked the capstan, he noticed his right glove loosening. During that brief distraction, the inside lead line became entangled around his right forearm.

Instantly his arm was pulled into the fast-spinning capstan. Unable to free himself, he was pulled around the capstan several more times.

Crew members ran to aid their severely injured skipper. The deckhand immediately disengaged power to the winch.

Then the crewmen worked to free the skipper from the line and capstan. Realizing the severity of his injuries, they turned the vessel toward shore.

While the deckhand performed first aid on the skipper, who was drifting in and out of consciousness, the mate took the helm and headed for the closest port. He made several distress calls over the VHF and called 911 on his cell phone.

The transit took approximately 15 minutes. EMS personnel from the local county sheriff office's marine unit met the boat on arrival.

The paramedics stabilized the skipper's condition before transporting him to the county hospital. Because his injuries were so severe, the skipper was airlifted to a larger facility for surgery.

Lessons learned
The skipper sustained a dislocated right shoulder, shattered bones in his upper and lower right arm, and a nearly amputated right hand. Quick action and response by the vessel's crew and EMS personnel helped save the skipper's right arm and ultimately saved his life.

Here are some common safety guidelines to keep in mind when working around deck machinery:

Develop a procedure on how to operate the machinery safely and post emergency procedures to follow should a winch/machinery-related accident occur. Determine if your vessel is required to have installed guards to prevent injury to personnel (see 46 CFR 28.215). Teach the crew to check the status of safety guards and on/off switches, to know where emergency shutdown devices are and how to use them.

Conduct regular training to build crew proficiency, confidence and knowledge of safe winch operations. Ensure your equipment is properly maintained and kept in good working order.

Concentrating on the task at hand and being properly trained to use the equipment is the other half of the safety equation and helps to eliminate, isolate and minimize potential injuries. Help ensure the safety of yourself and crew by staying prepared 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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