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SAFE-BOAT SMART-BOAT: PFDs save lives – if you wear them

Recently, I read a Coast Guard report about another crewman lost at sea in a man-overboard incident.  This one happened on Oct. 30 from the F/V Miss Lindsey II.  The search was suspended on Oct. 31.

“It’s always difficult to suspend a search,” said Lt. j.g. Marie Haywood, command duty officer at the Coast Guard Sector Boston.  “Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of the crewman who fell overboard.”

A qualified Coast Guard-approved marine drill instructor, Fred Mattera of Point Judith, RI is the owner/president of North East Safety Training Co. (NESTCo), which conducts fishing vessel drills and inspections and basic safety training workshops.

A qualified Coast Guard-approved marine drill instructor, Fred Mattera of Point Judith, RI is the owner/president of North East Safety Training Co. (NESTCo), which conducts fishing vessel drills and inspections and basic safety training workshops.

I concur with Lt. Haywood and send my sincere condolences to the family of the lost-at-sea crewman.  But I have to point out that if that crewmember had been wearing a personal flotation device, or PFD, there is a high probability he would be alive today or, at least, there would be a body for the grieving family to bury.

Because of this tragedy, I have to emphasize the need for prevention.  In a study of commercial fishing fatalities from 2000-to-2008, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) found that 27% were attributed to falls overboard.

PFDs save lives.  That is an undisputed fact.  But they don’t work unless you wear them.  And getting people to wear them, that’s the tricky part.

Some of the most common objections to wearing PFDs are that they are bulky, heavy, hot, and generally uncomfortable.  This is no longer true.

Another recent NIOSH study, conducted by Jennifer Lincoln, Devin Lucas, and Theodore Teske, focused on the issue of PFD use and wearability.  The study consisted of two parts.  The first was a survey of 400 fishermen in Southwest Alaska to measure their perceptions of the risk of falling overboard, safety attitudes, beliefs about PFDs, and experience with falls overboard.

The second was a hands-on evaluation and rating of six modern PFDs by 216 commercial fishermen, 54 from each of four different kinds of fishing vessels — crabbers, trawlers, longliners, and gillnetters — to determine the features and qualities that they liked and disliked.

Six PFD models were randomly assigned to the participating fishermen, who agreed to wear them for one month and complete evaluation forms twice, the first after day one and the second after day 30.

Two types of PFDs were tested — those incorporated into rain gear and stand alones.  The rain gear brands and models were:  Guy Cotton, with inflatable PFDs built into suspenders; Stormy Seas, with inflatable PFDs clipped into Grunden bibs; and Regatta, with foam built into the chest and back of the bibs.

The stand-alone brands and models were:  Stearns inflatable; Stearns vest with foam buoyancy; and Mustang inflatable.

 

Findings

Of those fishermen who participated, 89% completed and returned the evaluation forms.  They reported wearing the PFDs 65% of the time while working on deck.  The preferences for PFDs were different among the four gear types.  In general, the fishermen had positive thoughts about PFDs but don’t regularly wear them.

The study found that the top three PFDs rated for overall satisfaction by fishermen in each of the four fisheries were:

  •   Crabbers — Mustang inflatable, Regatta foam, and Stearns foam;
  •   Trawlers — Mustang inflatable, Regatta foam, and Stearns foam;
  •   Longliners — Regatta foam and Stearns inflatable (same score), Mustang inflatable, and Stormy Seas inflatable; and
  •   Gillnetters — Regatta foam, Mustang inflatable, and Guy Cotton inflatable.

With this empirical data in hand, safety trainers and professionals may be better equipped to address fishermen’s concerns and remove the barriers that currently steer fishermen away from wearing PFDs.

This study is not necessarily indicative of the types of fisheries that take place here in the Northeast, but there are similarities.  It also proves that there are “wearable” PFDs.  You just need to select the PFD that meets your preference and works for your fishery.

There was a time when none of us wore seatbelts, and then researchers proved that they save lives.  Now, the first thing most of us do when we get into our car or truck is clip our seatbelt in.  A PFD is like a seatbelt.  It only works to save your life if you wear it.

Fred Mattera

 

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