National Fisherman

Under the wire

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

One clear mid-October day, a skipper and his crewman prepared to go squid fishing off Southern California. Fishermen in this nighttime fishery use high-powered lights to attract the nocturnal squid. The crewman had noticed one of the lights was malfunctioning and decided to work on it once they arrived at the fishing grounds, approximately 6 miles offshore.

They arrived on their 38-footer around noon, anchored and set about their tasks — the skipper prepared lunch while the deckhand set to work on the light.

The crewman removed the cover of the electrical box that housed the wiring for the lights.

"Be careful," the skipper said. "Turn off the generator before you start messing with the wiring, so you don't get electrocuted."

Several minutes later, the skipper heard a loud thump near the electrical box, mounted aft of the pilothouse. He found the crewman slumped over on deck.

The skipper noticed the 30-kW generator control panel in the pilothouse was still running and immediately shut it off then pulled his unresponsive crewman away from the electrical box.

Blood was coming from the crewman's mouth, and his breathing was labored. The skipper ran back into the pilothouse and radioed for help.

He transmitted his location to the Coast Guard, informed them his boat was anchored, and that he was leaving the pilothouse to provide first aid.

The crewman was no longer breathing, so the skipper began administering CPR. He continued until a Coast Guard response boat and rescue helicopter arrived.

The rescue crew hoisted the crewman into the helicopter and continued CPR as they flew to a nearby hospital, where the crewman was pronounced dead.

Lessons learned

A Coast Guard investigation confirmed that electrocution caused the crewman's death. Lesions and burns were evident on both his hands, indicating he tried to work with the high-voltage wiring without turning off the power source. When working on or near electrical equipment, treat all electrical circuits as if they are energized until you're certain they're not. The skipper's presence of mind to shut down the vessel's power source before rendering first aid ensured that he, too, didn't become a casualty.

Don't attempt to install, repair, or remove electrical equipment unless you understand the system and are authorized to do so. Only qualified personnel should perform electrical installation and maintenance.

When working on electrical circuits, use protective equipment, such as electrical gloves, use properly sized fuses or circuit breakers, and tag the circuit to prevent someone else from energizing it accidentally during the repair.

All electrical equipment/circuits should be properly grounded and non-conducting deck materials, mats or gratings should be provided around switchboards, generators and electrical boxes.

Always protect electrical equipment from environmental hazards, and never operate or attempt to repair electrical equipment while standing in water.

When working on or around electricity, the body acts like a resistor. In most cases the body's resistance is high enough to prevent damage when exposed to low voltages; however, certain conditions can lower this resistance, causing severe to fatal injuries.

This tragic incident brought increased safety awareness to other members of the local commercial fishing fleet. Following proper safety precautions and leaving electrical repair work to the trained individuals, helps ensure the safety of yourself and others, 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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