Peak season pitfall

Just after 9:30 p.m., the skipper of a 54-foot wooden seiner and his crew of four finished loading ice and got underway out of a Southeast Alaska port. The seiner would run down an inside passage through several small islands. The mate, who was tired and wanted to get his turn at the wheel over with, volunteered to take the first watch...

The skipper checked the line on the power skiff being towed before joining the crew to rest. The mate checked the course line on the nav-computer, adjusted the throttle to bring the seiner up to 8 knots, and settled in. 

Around 11:15 p.m. everyone was awakened by a loud crash and a shudder. The skipper headed for the pilothouse and found the mate looking confused and disoriented. The skipper asked the mate what happened, but the mate was still trying to get his bearings. The skipper told the mate to check the engine room for damage. He pulled the throttle out of gear, checked the computer, and turned on the spotlight, which revealed that the seiner was sitting about 10 yards off of a rock wall. They had hit the shore of one of the islands on their course.

The mate reported that water was rushing into the engine room from under the port side of the main engine. The skipper told him to get help from another crewman and dewater the engine room while he put out a mayday call.

A nearby Coast Guard station picked up the call at 11:20 and sent a small patrol boat. The mayday was overheard by a fish tender in the area. The tender’s crew informed the Coast Guard and the seiner that they would attempt to assist. The seiner skipper instructed the remaining two crew members to bring the power skiff alongside, get it started, then to prepare to abandon ship.

Soon afterward, the tender arrived. The crew passed a portable pump and ran a hose from one of their pumps. The Coast Guard boat arrived minutes later. By 1 a.m., they realized they couldn’t stay ahead of the flooding. The skipper ordered everyone onto the tender.

Almost two hours after impact, the seiner dipped below the surface and sank bow first in about 475 feet of water. The crew went back to port on the tender; no one was injured. The seiner was never salvaged and was considered a total loss.

Lessons learned

The mate admitted he had fallen asleep on watch. The seiner was running around the clock at the time. The crew would run down to the fishing grounds and return at night to unload and load up with ice. Then they would make the run back; it was a grueling schedule.

The wooden 47-year-old seiner did not have watertight compartments. The bulkheads that separated one space from another were merely non-watertight partitions. The crew said they didn’t have any training in damage control.

Captains and crews are generally not assured a rest period, especially at the season’s peak. The captain has to be aware of his own fatigue and ensure that his relief at the wheel has had an adequate period of rest in order to navigate safely.

You can’t always pick the leadership on a fishing boat, but you can become acquainted with the vessel’s structural layout, and some basic damage control techniques. The best defense against a fatigue-related navigation casualty is a well-rested watch stander who is relieved by a crew member who has had adequate time to sleep. Get some rest 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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