Fishermen in Southeast Alaska are learning about new safety requirements for life rafts that take effect later this month. The changes are included in past Coast Guard re-authorization bills and will mean smaller fishing boats will have to have a life raft to go three miles offshore.

Coast Guard commercial fishing vessel examiners were in Petersburg this month offering free dockside exams for boats getting ready to go out in a variety of fisheries this month and next. The examiners held a question and answer session to brief fishermen on new requirements and spent a good part of their time answering questions about the new life raft requirement for smaller fishing boats. Starting February 26, boats under 36 feet will be required to carry an inflatable life raft to go more than three miles offshore. Most fishing boats in the region, even the smaller ones, usually run more than three miles off the coast of Southeast Alaska’s islands, even if they’re staying on the inside waters.

Jim Paul, the Coast Guard’s fishing vessel examiner in Ketchikan thought the change was going to impact Alaska’s fishing fleet more than anywhere else in the U.S. “Cause most of the other ones when they go more than three miles, they drive straight out, they’re right into the ocean, so they already gotta have these rafts,” Paul said. “We’ve got lots and lots of buoyant apparatus that the rest of the United States isn’t fooling around with.”

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