Water over the stern

On a cold New England November morning, a skipper and one deckhand boarded a 40-foot scalloper and got underway for a day trip. A small craft advisory had been issued for the area with 3- to 5-foot seas and 15- to 20-knot winds out of the northeast. 

When they arrived at their first spot just before 11 a.m., they noted about 25 lobster trap lines that crisscrossed the area. They set out the starboard scallop dredge and proceeded in an easterly course at 7 to 8 knots.

After about five minutes, the dredge became entangled in some of the lobster gear. The deckhand, who had been a lobsterman, estimated that the trap line was made up of 20 traps and weighed about 2,250 pounds. The weight of the trap line on the dredge resulted in a decrease in the boat’s speed down to 2 to 3 knots, and the boat listed to starboard aft.

The skipper pulled the throttle back to slow-ahead. This helped take some of the tension off the wire attached to the dredge, while maintaining enough to keep the wire out of the propeller.

However, the wind and sea conditions, coupled with increased tension on the scallop dredge wire, turned the boat in a SSW direction. With her stern freeboard reduced by the added weight to 6 inches, water started washing up over the main deck through the dredge retrieval opening and freeing ports in the boats transom. The skipper came back out on deck and took over operation of the winch to try to bring the dredge alongside, but the boat became entangled in a second lobster trap line. The second entanglement redirected the boat to a more westerly heading and exposed its stern to oncoming sea conditions; water started downflooding into the compartments below.

Around 11:15 a.m., the skipper spotted the main cargo boom over the starboard rail and then told the deckhand to attach the wire running from the main cargo boom to a pad-eye that was welded on the top of the dredge. The skipper intended to use the cargo boom winch to lift the dredge up and out of the water so the lobster trap lines could be freed or cut from the dredge; the starboard gunwale was now nearly underwater. Trying to cut the gear free was not working.

The skipper headed back into the pilothouse and told the deckhand to release the tension on the lower starboard side winch so the dredge would drop away from the side of the boat. He would simultaneously place the throttle full-ahead to try to reposition the boat. This maneuver allowed the starboard side winch’s wire to go slack. The cargo boom’s wire, which ran through a block that was 19 feet above deck and 11 feet above the starboard winch’s block and tackle, assumed the full load of the scallop dredge (and entangled lobster gear). 

Around 11:20 a.m., the boat started listing harder to starboard and began going further down by the stern. The boat rolled over and the deckhand was thrown into the water. He grabbed onto the rub rail of the overturned scallop boat.

By 11:28 a.m., the lobster boat that was working nearby arrived alongside the scallop boat and retrieved the deckhand from the water. 

 It was about 12:37 p.m. when the scallop boat slid below the surface and sank in 190 feet of water. The deckhand was borderline hypothermic. The skipper was never located.

Lessons learned

Four years prior to this incident, the scalloper was converted from a stern net dragger to a starboard side only scallop dredger. Modifications increased the weight of the vessel by 1,000 to 1,200 pounds, moved the highest weight bearing point of the vessel from 14 feet above the deck to 19 feet above the deck, and reduced the stern’s freeboard to only 12 inches. No stability evaluation was conducted afterward. When alterations to a vessel can affect its stability, a competent authority should approve the alterations before they are undertaken.

 Stability is one of the most important factors in every fishing vessel’s overall safety. Without reducing the importance of life-saving equipment, take all precautions and use every possible means to ensure you go to sea in a stable vessel. 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.

NF Nov16 CVR

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