The U.S. Coast Guard rescued five fishermen from a life raft southeast of Sitka, Alaska, on Tuesday. The crew was forced to abandon their 70-foot wooden longliner when it began taking on water.

Coast Guard watchstanders in Juneau received a mayday call from the F/V Masonic, an 1923 halibut schooner, at 2:33 a.m. and located the boat south of Cape Decision using AIS after they were unable to contact the fishermen on the radio.

A rescue helicopter launched from Sitka along with the Petersburg-based cutter Anacapa. The cruise ship Oosterdam offered help in response to an urgent marine information broadcast.

The helicopter located the five fishermen in a raft tied off to the stern of the grounded fishing vessel on the north side of Coronation Island at 4 a.m. All five fishermen were unharmed and wearing cold-weather survival suits.

All five fishermen were hoisted by the Coast Guard crew and taken safely to Sitka.

“This case highlights how being prepared for an emergency situation is critical in the dangerous environment that we live and work in,” said Capt. Stephen White, Sector Juneau Commander.

"It’s well-maintained by the owner," Steve Ramp, the Coast Guard's commercial fishing vessel safety examiner in Sitka, told KCAW. "And I feel terrible that the boat encountered this problem, but I feel pretty good that what I do contributed to a safe outcome, by getting the people home safe.”

The 70-foot longliner Masonic. Bill Lewis photo.

According to the Coast Guard, the crew of the Masonic had requested and undergone a fishing vessel dockside examination prior to departing. The crew had also conducted an abandon-ship drill the day before the exam, including donning the survival suits.

“I’m thankful that the crew of the Masonic was prepared," said White. "It probably saved their lives. In addition, the AIS position from the vessel was instrumental in our ability to quickly locate the survivors, as it took the ‘search’ out of ‘search and rescue.’”

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Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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