Author Archives: John cullather

Rescue of crew of commercial fishing vessel KUPREANOF

This is a video of the Coast Guard rescue of 4 men off the 58 foot commercial fishing vessel KUPREANOF in Alaska on June 10, 2015.  It proves that immersion suits and liferafts providing out of the water protection work. Classing of new commercial fishing vessels of this size will help prevent this type of sinking.

Plan now for the Alternate Compliance Program for fishing vessels more than 25 years old

There may be some confusion about what commercial fishing vessels are subject to an Alternate Compliance Program (ACP) and what types of safety measures may be addressed by the ACP. I will try to straighten out the record.


Section 604 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010, as subsequently amended, requires all commercial fishing vessels that operate more than 3 nautical miles offshore, are more than 50 feet overall in length, and built after June 30, 2013, to be designed and built under standards developed by a classification society approved by the Coast Guard.

But what about vessels built before July 1, 2013?  Shouldn’t there be design and construction standards for those vessels to help prevent capsizings and sinkings?

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 also addressed those vessels – by requiring the Coast Guard to develop an “Alternate Compliance Program”.  It was recognized that the classification societies would not class a vessel in cases where they had not approved the design and had oversight during the construction. The ACP was developed to address that problem by having the Coast Guard establish the standards instead of the class societies. Beginning on January 1, 2020 commercial fishing vessels that are 25-years-old, operate more than 3 nautical miles offshore, are more than 50-feet overall in length, that were built after June 30, 2013 must comply with the ACP.  Scope of ACP:

The scope of the ACP standards is to include all matters that would be covered by classing the vessel – it is an “alternative” to classing.  It includes all matters related to the construction of the vessel – such as hull, machinery, fittings, firefighting equipment, auxiliary machinery, electric installations, stability, water-tight integrity, and crew accommodations. It does not cover PFDs, EPIRBs, radios, and other equipment and training that are otherwise addressed by the law.

Pre-2013 vessels:

Congress also recognized that many existing vessels may have trouble complying with the ACP standards – and that compliance with those standards may result in vessels being tied to the dock because they could not comply.

That is why Congress only applied the ACP to commercial fishing vessels that are more than 25 years old. By that time, the owners should have fully paid off their vessels – and could build a new vessel that would be classed by an approved classification society or they can choose to enroll their vessel in an ACP and comply with its provision that may require extensive upgrades.

Congress specifically required that the Coast Guard develop the ACP standards in cooperation with the fishing industry.  Congress also recognized that the standards that may be appropriate for a vessel in the Bering Sea may not be appropriate for a shrimp boat in the Gulf of Mexico.   Therefore, Congress authorized the Coast Guard to establish ACP standards based upon geographic regions or fisheries.

This is not unlike what Congress passed when enacting the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA). At that time, Congress allowed single-hull tankers to continue until they reached their 25th birthday.  After that time – they had to either be retrofitted to comply with the double hull requirements – or be removed from the trade.


Beginning in 2020, the Alternate Compliance Program for commercial fishing vessels applies to a vessel that is 25-years old, operates more than 3 nautical miles offshore, is more than 50-feet in length, and was built before July 1, 2013. .  It is to address all those matters that would be addressed by a class society when they review the design and construction of a new commercial fishing vessel.

The Coast Guard is required by law to prescribe the ACP regulations by January 1, 2017 so that fishing vessel owners will have 3 years to plan and make any modifications necessary to their vessel to comply with the requirements.

2020 may sound like it is a long way off – but it is not. It is very important that the fishing industry, from all areas of the United States and participating in the various fisheries, advise the Coast Guard now on what construction standards they think would be appropriate to make this industry safer.


Fishing vessel winches can cause serious injuries and death

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 10% of the deaths on U.S.-flag commercial fishing vessels resulted from an injury on the vessel.

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has issued a report this week on the death of the captain of the commercial fishing vessel RONAN ORLA on March 30, 2014. The skipper had been operating the dredge-type fishing vessel single handedly and became entangled in the warping drum of the vessel’s winch. The full report is at this link.

The report stated:

“The skipper died because he was unable to disentangle himself or stop the winch before succumbing to his injuries. The MAIB investigation was unable to determine conclusively the mechanism by which the skipper was pulled onto the rotating winch drum. However, the most likely cause was the snagging of one of the shoulder straps on his bib and brace trousers. The investigation identified several underlying contributory factors; these included:

“• Ronan Orla and its equipment had not been adequately maintained, and its winch was in a dangerously poor condition.

“• It was unsafe to operate Ronan Orla as a scallop dredger single-handedly.

“• The winch had not been fitted with the safety devices required by UK legislation and recommended by the International Maritime Organization, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and industry bodies. Had an emergency stop been fitted, the skipper might have been able to stop the winch; had the winch control lever been designed to return to its stopped position when released, the accident would have been prevented.”.

In February 2015, the MAIB issued Wanderer II casualty report that also made recommendations regarding the serious injury to a commercial fisherman engaged in dredging operations. That report is at this link.

NIOSH developed an emergency stop switch for winches (called an E-stop) which can be retrofitted on existing commercial fishing vessels. “When engaged, it locks the winch in place limiting the severity of entanglement. The technology was licensed to a company in Seattle, WA to produce a commercially-available retrofit kit.  More than a dozen vessels now have an e-stop installed on their winches and winch manufacturers are now making new winches with an e-stop as a standard feature. The development and commercialization of this device was honored with the CDC Director’s Innovation Award in 2008.”

The E-stop is available exclusively at GO2MARINE.COM.

The installation instructions for the E-stop are at this link.

Just as there are emergency brakes on everything from table saws to chain saws – emergency stop switches should be required on all commercial fishing vessels that have winches.

Ten things I have learned about the sea

The film “Ten things I learned about the sea” was made by Lorenzo Fonda during a voyage he made in 2008 from Los Angeles to Shanghai on the container ship PORTLAND SENATOR.  Whether or not you have ever sailed the sea, you will enjoy this tranquil video in which he expresses the enduring and powerful nature of the ocean.



Will your commercial fishing vessel be tied to the dock in October?

On October 15, 2015 the Coast Guard will begin dockside enforcement of the safety requirements enacted by Congress in the Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Act of 1988.

These requirements, such as immersion suits, training, cold water survival, have been the law for over 25 years.  However, a 2011 study funded by Maine Sea Grant and NOAA that is titled “Occupational Safety and Compliance in the Maine Commercial Fishing Industry: Status Report and Policy Recommendations“ indicates that a majority of fishing vessel captains in their survey did NOT have the required training. For example, 66% had never taken any life raft training and 59% had not received any immersion suit training. Only 54% of the commercial fishing vessels had the required Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs).

The study found that –

 “Despite the existence of the safety equipment items noted in the questionnaire, conversations with the captains revealed that in many cases the captains were unfamiliar with the proper use of that equipment. Some also had a difficult time locating it. Although present onboard, the safety equipment would neither have been accessible nor useful during the emergency situations for which they were intended. There was also a problem with broken or expired safety equipment, such as leaky survival suits, malfunctioning flares and horns, and first aid kits with few useable items remaining in them.”

The survey results indicated that “Maine captains surveyed generally reported being risk-loving rather than risk-averse in their daily lives” and that a significant majority felt that “driving a car was more dangerous than fishing”.

If the survey in Maine is any indicator of commercial fishing vessel operations nationally, there is a shipwreck coming in October – and the vessel owners and Coast Guard need to begin preparations to head it off.

The Coast Guard requested legal authority to conduct dockside exams because it was safer and more effective for all those involved.  Now they need to begin walking the docks and educating the fishing vessel owners about the October 15th deadline for complying with a 27 year old law.

A partnership between the Coast Guard and the fishing vessel community will make the dockside examination program a success.  If this is viewed and implemented the way local home construction inspectors work with the builder and homeowner to ensure they have a safe home then all parties will be satisfied with the process and outcome – and vessels won’t be tied to the dock unable to fish.

The Maine study can be found at this link.

Licenses required for commercial water jet devices

The Coast Guard has issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB Number: 04-15) to advise the public and commercial operators of water jet devices “for-hire” that their personnel on the attached Personal Watercraft (PWC) must have an Operator of an Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV) license.

In case you haven’t seen a water jet device – here is a video of one called a “ Jetovator”.

The Coast has a clear explanation of the procedures that must be followed under this license including:

  1. Emergency procedures for injuries, drowning, loss of vessel control, retrieval of conscious persons in the water, inadvertent dragging of passengers,
  2. Assessment of adequate gear quick release(s), power shut offs, and other disengagement mechanisms.
  3. A safety briefing is provided to the passenger by the vessel operator or crew
  4. Adequate communications including a clear two-way communication arrangement between the vessel operator and
  5. Establishment of safe environmental operating conditions such as weather, sea state, and operating area
  6. Assessment of the need for an additional person(s) and/or a chase boat to provide assistance and maintain situational awareness of the WJD operation and surrounding/oncoming traffic, particularly in congested areas.
  7. Assessment of PFD flotation adequacy, particularly when any equipment worn could overcome the PFD’s buoyancy. Some WJD backpacks are designed with built in positive flotation and some are not.

The Coast Guard also recommends that operators of water jet devices for purely recreational purposes (not for-hire) develop and follow these 7 procedures.

FLOAT PLANS – so friends will know what to do if you’re missing

For vessel operators, either recreational or commercial, that do not have the ability to download and use the Coast Guard’s new APP that includes a float plan feature – there is another alternative.

The Coast Guard has created a PDF file for float plans – all you need to do is type in your information, print it out, and leave it with a reliable individual. If you don’t return as planned or report in on schedule they can provide this vital information to the Coast Guard.

You can “save” this document with information that remains constant about your vessel – and then just update it with voyage information.

The FLOAT PLAN PDF is at this link.

Towing vessel sinks on lower Mississippi River – one missing

The towing vessel MISS NATALIE sank near mile marker 163 on the lower Mississippi River at approximately 8:00 a.m. on May 30 with 5 individuals on board.  Four of the crewmembers were picked up by a good samaritan.  One crewmember was missing.  The Coast Guard has now suspended the search.

The Coast Guard deployed 2 helicopters and a 45 foot response boat to conduct the search along with a response vessel from the port of South Louisianna.

The Coast Guard press releases indicated that the name of the vessel was the UTV MISS NATALIE.  “UTV” stands for “Uninspected Towing Vessel”. Section 415 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2004 requires all towing vessels to be inspected by the Coast Guard to ensure that the vessel is in compliance with all regulations pertaining to the design and construction of the vessel. Specificatlly, section 3306 of title 46, United States Code states that:

“the Secretary shall prescribe necessary regulations to ensure the proper execution of, and to carry out, this part in the most effective manner for …the design, construction, alteration, repair, and operation of those vessels, including superstructures, hulls, fittings, equipment, appliances, propulsion machinery, auxiliary machinery, boilers, unfired pressure vessels, piping, electric installations…”

 The Coast Guard has been attempting to prescribe these regulations for the past 11 years. Until these regulations are prescribed, casualties such as this will continue and the Coast Guard will spend resources on response instead of prevention.

Man Overboard: Prevention and Recovery

Approximately 31% of all deaths on commercial fishing vessels result from individuals falling overboard. To help prevent these deaths, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) has produced a video titled “Man Overboard: Prevention and Recovery”.  This video is designed to help those onboard commercial fishing vessels learn how to prevent individuals from falling overboard – and how to successfully recover someone who does fall overboard.

This excellent training video is at this link.

Commercial Fishing Vessel Dockside Examinations – Here is an online checklist of requirements  

After many deaths, capsizings, and sinkings of commercial fishing vessels in the 1980’s, representatives of fishing vessel owners, the Coast Guard, and the Congress worked together to develop safety standards for commercial fishing vessels.  Most of these standards were focused on helping the crew on fishing vessels survive the disaster – such as by requiring Emergency Position Indicating Beacons (EPIRBs) and immersion suits. This culminated in the enactment of the Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Act of 1988.

The Coast Guard did not believe that they had the legal authority to enforce these requirements dockside.  They believed that they could only conduct at-sea boardings to determine compliance with the requirements.  If a vessel was not in compliance – they could (and often times did) order the vessel back to port until it was in compliance. To help the vessel owner avoid having his fishing vessel sent back to port, the Coast Guard developed a voluntary dockside examination program to determine compliance with the legal requirements.  If the vessel passed the exam it was issued a decal evidencing compliance.

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 provided the Coast Guard with the legal authority to make dockside examinations mandatory for all fishing vessels. On October 15, 2015 the Coast Guard will begin enforcing the mandatory dockside examinations.

To aid the owner in knowing what the requirements are for a particular type of commercial fishing vessel the Coast Guard has developed an online tool that allows the owner to input the specifications of their vessel – and the software will generate a list of the applicable requirements.

The Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Checklist Generator is at this link.

Don’t lose days of fishing by being sent back to the dock – beat the rush – and get your exam NOW!

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