National Fisherman

The nick of time

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

The Atlantic scallop fleet has proved to be one of the most dangerous in the United States. Crew members face entanglement with deck winches, propulsion machinery and encounters with heavy gear, along with long work hours in harsh weather.

At approximately 5:30 a.m. on a day late in May, a crew of three was aboard a 59-foot wooden scalloper fishing 25 miles off the coast of Point Pleasant, N.J. The mate and crewman were processing on deck. At 6 a.m., the skipper put her on autopilot and went into the fish hold to prep for bags of shucked scallops. He noticed some debris floating in the bilge next to the discharge pump and reached down to remove it; his jacket became entangled with the shaft.

He was pulled down onto the shaft and slammed face first into the vessel's port stringer. He yelled for help, but his calls were unheard by the crew on deck. The shaft continued to spin, creating severe friction burns on his upper torso. The jacket became wound tighter and tighter in the vessel's shaft until it constricted his airway.

At 6:10 a.m., the mate noticed the skipper hadn't returned topside. He walked over to the hatch and yelled down, "Skipper... Everything OK down there?" When he got no response he slid down the ladder into the hold. He saw the skipper entangled in the turning shaft and yelled for the crewman to disengage the autopilot and clutch.

Once the shaft stopped, the mate cut away the jacket to allow airflow to the skipper's lungs. Although very groggy, he regained consciousness. The crewman helped the skipper into his rack and tended to his head wounds. In the meantime, the mate ran to the pilothouse where he set a course toward port and hailed for help.

At 8 a.m. a New York police rescue helicopter came over the horizon. The helicopter's crew gave the mate instructions to prepare for a medevac so the skipper could be treated at a hospital. The mate and crewman steamed back to port.

Lessons learned
The mate's initiative, quick thinking and prompt response saved the skipper. The crew had been through emergency response training, which helped them handle this potentially tragic series of events.

Coast Guard approved drill instructors conduct safety training seminars around the country on a regular basis. For more information, contact your local commercial fishing vessel safety examiner (under Locate Examiners on NIOSH, in cooperation with AMSEA and Alaska Sea Grant, has also created free safety training videos to help crew members prevent injuries, respond to man overboard events and encourage fishermen to think safe and fish safe.

To request a copy of these videos, email NIOSH at with the DVD title "The Most Powerful Thing: Deck Safety Awareness for Purse Seiners" or "Man Overboard Prevention and Recovery" in the subject line. The deck safety DVD can also be requested via

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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