Tipping the balance

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

A 52-foot wooden seiner was motoring along an inner passage in Southeast Alaska, returning from a five-day trip with 7,000 pounds of shrimp boxed in a homemade freezer on the fantail.

On the aft deck were a crewman and an observer representing the seafood buyer. As the seiner approached the open strait, it passed two other fishing vessels. Recognizing one, the seiner's skipper and the other vessel's skipper exchanged pleasantries.

The troll vessel's skipper noted that the seiner was riding low in the water. The seiner's skipper acknowledged and said he had to "stop and lash things down" before turning into the open strait. Some 138 shrimp pots stacked 12 to 15 high covered the deck and hung off the sides. Some pots were atop the freezer and the wheelhouse.

At 3:20 p.m., the skipper slowed the seiner to lower the vessel's stabilizer-equipped outriggers. As he lowered the starboard stabilizer the seiner began taking on water over the starboard rail.

As the boat listed, the pots and freezer began shifting, compounding the problem. As the seiner started to roll over, the two men on the stern climbed the inclining deck and reached the high side. The skipper was ejected from the wheelhouse into the 53-degree water. The men saw him some 30 yards away from the boat, waving his arms.

The crewman deployed the 10-foot life raft and rowed toward the skipper. The observer stayed behind and headed to the wheelhouse. He reached through a portside window, grabbed the VHF, and issued a mayday call at 3:28 p.m.

The crewman reached the drifting skipper, who was unconscious and starting to go under, about 10 minutes later. He pulled the skipper into the raft and rowed back to the seiner. There, the crewman and observer began administering CPR.

A nearby Coast Guard response boat and the troller the seiner had encountered earlier responded to the mayday and headed for the capsized boat.

The troller arrived at 3:50. The skipper picked up all three men and radioed the Coast Guard that he had them. The Coast Guard advised him to head toward shore and rendezvous with a Coast Guard response boat.

They rendezvoused 15 minutes later. The seiner crew was transferred to the response boat, and Coast Guard personnel continued administering CPR as the vessel raced to the nearest Coast Guard boat station.

There, local emergency personnel continued CPR, but resuscitation efforts proved unsuccessful. The other men were treated for mild hypothermia and released.

Lessons learned
An investigator concluded vessel instability most likely caused the roll over. The combination of significant weight on deck, empty tanks/voids belowdecks and tanks low on fuel created instability. The outrigger being lowered triggered a chain of events (flooding, listing, shifting of gear) from which the vessel could not recover. A stability test and stability instructions will help you understand loading conditions and limits for your vessel.

No one on the seiner wore a personal flotation device and no one was able to don an immersion suit. The skipper's exposure to the cold water most certainly reduced his survival chances.

Wearing PFDs on deck and conducting emergency drills can help you prepare for the unexpected 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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