Compromise and capsize

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

The skipper of a 72-foot steel trawler and his two-man crew were heading home one summer afternoon after plugging the tanks with squid off the Mid-Atlantic coast.

Later that afternoon, seas were building to 6 to 8 feet with 10-foot swells, and 20- to 25-knot winds from the SSE were gusting to almost 40 knots.

By 7:30, the trawler was riding on an even keel, and the younger of the crewmen was on watch. Both outriggers were down. Portside scupper/freeing port covers were installed, but starboard-side covers weren't.

At 8 p.m. the crewman on watch noticed a list to port. He saw water pooling the deck's port side, where the freeing port covers were preventing drainage.

He tried removing them, but realized he might get washed overboard. He went to wake the skipper, who went to the wheelhouse with the other crewman and started turning the trawler to port to head up into the seas.

The list had increased, and the port outrigger was partially immersed. The skipper told the senior crewman to bring the outrigger, causing more drag on the portside, up to its stowed position. As he started to do so, he and the other crewman felt the trawler roll to port.

The trawler, which now had a 45-degree list, kept rolling very slowly to port. Both crewmen walked up the deck, over the side and onto the hull as it capsized.

When the EPIRB surfaced, the younger crewman retrieved it, secured it to himself and climbed back on the hull. The crewmen looked for the skipper and called out for him, but to no avail.

At around 8:48 p.m. the Coast Guard received the trawler's EPIRB signal and diverted a rescue helicopter on a training mission 55 miles to the north. The helicopter arrived at 9:30 and deployed a rescue swimmer.

As the senior crewman was being hoisted, the trawler's life raft surfaced and deployed. The other crewman made it to the raft. The rescue helicopter, critically low on fuel, relayed position information to a second Coast Guard rescue helicopter that was 10 minutes away.

Both crewmen were delivered safely. Despite a prolonged search, the trawler's skipper was not found.

Lessons learned
The trawler's stability appears to have been compromised. Regularly inspect freeing ports and make sure they aren't blocked by fishing gear or other items.

If sea conditions are extremely rough, head the vessel into the seas to minimize water on deck. If you must run with the seas, riding on the backside of the preceding wave will minimize the dangers.

Watch out for "weight creep." Accumulation of parts and gear or a series of seemingly small modifications to the vessel or its gear can reduce overall stability.

If vessel or gear modifications are not included in the stability assessment, consult a naval architect about developing new stability guidance. 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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