Caught up in the line

From U.S. Coast Guard reports

One August day at 2:45 p.m., the skipper and sternman of a 39-foot, fiberglass lobster boat were setting the day’s last string of traps.

The sternman was aft banding lobsters from a previous haulback and putting them in the saltwater tank. Several pots had already been pulled off the open afterdeck when the skipper heard the sternman yell his name. He turned his head just in time to see the sternman being dragged overboard.

The skipper took the boat out of gear and gave it a quick shot astern to stop the boat’s forward progress. He cut traps still on deck from the line. Looking aft, he saw the sternman entangled in the groundline with what looked like a half hitch around one of his ankles.

The skipper engaged the boat’s hydraulic gear and hauled the sternman back toward the transom. He yelled, “Give me your hand!” to the sternman but got no response. The skipper then grabbed the sternman by the back of his T-shirt and tried to pull him aboard, but the T-shirt ripped.

Realizing he couldn’t get the sternman out of the water, the skipper made a mayday call via VHF Channel 16, requesting assistance to pull his sternman back aboard.

At 3:08 p.m., the Coast Guard station and a state patrol boat heard the mayday call. The state patrol boat, with two conservation officers aboard, contacted the Coast Guard and said they would respond.

As the state patrol boat came into view, the lobster boat skipper set off a visual distress signal to help confirm his position. The state patrol boat arrived at around 3:20 p.m.

The conservation officers boarded the boat and observed that one of the sternman’s legs was wrapped in the lobster-trawl ground line, which was taut. The sternman was pinned to the stern, head-down in the water. Fearing the remainder of the trawl extending down to the bottom would pull him completely underwater, the officers, working furiously, cut the sternman free.

It then took both officers about a minute to haul him out of the water and onto the deck.

The conservation officers began two-person CPR to try to revive the sternman. One officer instructed the skipper to contact the Coast Guard and ask for a helicopter.

The Coast Guard sent a rescue helicopter that had been conducting training in the area. It arrived minutes later, lowering to the lobster boat a rescue swimmer, who secured the sternman to a litter that hoisted them up to the helicopter.

An ambulance met the helicopter at the local Coast Guard boat station and transported the sternman to the nearest hospital, but he couldn’t be resuscitated.

Lessons learned

Keeping the deck free of loose lines can reduce the risk of line entanglement. Stop the engine and untangle or cut the line to help victims escape an entanglement. Install remote engine shut-off switches, carry a knife on your person, and mount knives in different locations to facilitate cutting lines if a crewman becomes entangled.

Avoid fishing single-handed; a sternman can aid in emergencies. Carry ladders that can provide footholds when attempting to pull crew members back aboard.

Consider wearing a PFD when working on deck. Rescuers can grab hold of them to pull victims back aboard.

Remember that the best PFD is the one that is worn and lets you 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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