Author Archives: John cullather

Time to change maritime safety behavior in the commercial fishing industry

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada published a blog post by Glenn Budden, a Senior Investigator for their agency titled “Time to change maritime safety behavor” in the commercial fishing industry.  His insights are particularly informative because Mr. Budden owned and operated a commercial fishing business.

Falling overboard is the second leading cause of deaths on commercial fishing vessels in Canada. In British Columbia, 40% of the individuals that died on a commercial fishing vessel since 2004 were not wearing a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) despite the fact that PFDs are legally required for individuals “employed under conditions which involve a risk of drowning.”

Mr. Budden uses the loss of life on the fishing vessel DIANE LOUISE to illustrate his point.  The report on the DIANE LOUISE is at this link.

The key point that he makes is that commercial fishermen are keenly aware that they are engaged in a risky business – and they accept that risk – but in the case of the DIANE LOUISE they did not manage it.

Wearing a PFD on a commercial fishing vessel should become the normal practice.  Just as I do not feel comfortable driving my car without my seat belt on – so to must crewmembers become uncomfortable going on deck without their PFD.

However, Mr. Budden correctly states that “Any efforts to improve safety and eliminate unsafe behaviours in commercial fishing have to be made in consideration of the difficult operating environment and must be tailored to work within that context”. In the United States that may mean that the type of a PFD that works for a fisherman in Alaska may not work for a fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico because it is just too hot.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has worked for several years to identify PFDs that fishermen will be comfortable using in various marine environments and some manufacturers have begun adapting their products for those regional conditions.  I will write a blog on that topic in the near future.

In the meantime, Mr. Budden’s entire blog titled “Time to change maritime safety behavor” can be found at this link.


Cold water kills – QUICKLY

This past weekend a passenger of the dinner cruise NORTHERN SPIRIT fell into Lake Ontario when he was leaning over the railing.  The individual involved in this casualty was a trained lifeguard and expert swimmer. According to press reports, the police estimated that the water was approximately 9o C (48o F). Witnesses were watching him – until they could not see him.

Most people immediately think of hypothermia in cases such as this – but there are dangers that can occur far more quickly than hypothermia.

According to RADM Alan Steinman (USCG Ret) the cold shock response of the human body includes:

  • Gasp Reflex
  • Hyperventilation
  • Difficulty holding your breath
  • Tachycardia
  • Hypertension (elevated blood pressure)

Quick response is vital in situations such as this.  Dr. Steinman’s summary of cold water risks indicates the following parameters for risks in cold water:

  • Cold shock – (0-2 minutes)
  • Functional disability (2-30 minutes)
  • Hypothermia (greater than 30 minutes)

Dr. Steinman’s presentation on Hypothermia, Drowning, and Cold-water survival is at this link.

A more detailed article from CTV NEWS Toronto titled ‘I blinked and he was gone’: Lifeguard missing after falling overboard is at this link.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has announced (see link) they are deploying a team to gather information and assess the situation.

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.



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