It’s no secret that commercial fishing is dangerous work – fatality rates in fishing are 31 times higher than the average industrial fatality rate. In the Northeast commercial fishing fleet, falls overboard are the most frequent cause of death, with lobstermen at especially high risk.


A Coast Guard inspector examines lobster pots aboard a commercial vessel. USCG photo.But let’s be honest: There’s really no sense singling out one group here. As an oysterman, I’m just as guilty of not wearing a PFD. The simple fact is that fishermen are not really good at wearing life jackets while they work. 

This weekend, during the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association’s annual trade show in Falmouth, Mass., a group of concerned organizations will again sound the alarm about improving PFD use – but this time with some new designs in mind.

The goal is to create a life jacket that lobstermen will actually wear, and have it available on the market in two years. To accomplish that, real-world input from fishermen is needed. 

The groups at the center of this effort are the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety: Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing, Fishing Partnership Support Services and PFD manufacturers. 

Four designs are planned to get onto the drawing boards. Two of those will be narrowed down into the prototype stage, which will then be field-tested next year by interested lobstermen.

The safety organizations all will be at the show and ready to hear you out. It’s a no-judgment opportunity to voice honest feedback about PFDs with the goal of finding practical solutions. You can also hear more of what the researchers have learned so far during a panel discussion on Saturday at 9:15 a.m.

If you can’t make the event on the Cape this weekend, another chance to discuss PFDs will be at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum in Rockport, March 2-4, and at the Commercial Marine Expo in Providence, R.I., on March 15.

Additionally, starting Jan. 23, staff from the above groups will be walking Northeast docks looking for participants. If you volunteer for research, you get a free PFD and a chance to take a paid phone survey.


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