Fishermen practice safety skills in Jonesport

At a survival training course held at the Coast Guard base in Jonesport last Thursday, 57 fishermen took turns maneuvering in the icy waters of Moosabec Reach while clad in survival suits while their classmates and instructors watched.

JONESPORT — The weather last Thursday was a lousy day for fishing — thick of fog and windy outside the islands — but that made it just perfect for dozens of fishermen to take part in a day-long safety and survival training program.

Nearly 60 fishermen signed up for the program, run by the Massachusetts-based Fishing Partnership Support Services and held at the U.S. Coast Guard base on the shore of Moosabec Reach. The program was co-sponsored by the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.

Starting early in the morning, instructors Capt. Ed Dennehy, David Blaney and Jacob Cabral put the 57 students through their paces in subjects including: man-overboard procedures; firefighting and emergency communications; flooding and emergency pump operation; survival suits; life raft deployment and boarding; helicopter hoist procedures and basic first aid.

Although the foggy weather precluded any real-time helicopter visits, it was no obstacle to the fishermen — divided into several groups under the watchful eyes of the instructors — donning survival suits, a lifesaving device that all of them carry on board their boats but that some of them had never actually tried on, and jumping into the icy reach and trying to maneuver in the bulky gear.

They also practiced the skill of boarding a life raft from the water and learned several survival tips from their instructors. If several people have to abandon ship, for example, the strongest should be the first to climb into the raft and then assist the others who are less able.

“Every emergency at sea is a potential threat to life and limb,” said Dennehy, a retired Coast Guard captain who serves as director of safety training for Fishing Partnership Support Services. The training “can save a fisherman’s life or enable that fisherman to save the life of a fellow crew member.”

That is especially relevant in the Northeast fishing industry. While television’s “Deadliest Catch” has painted the Bering Sea crab fishery as the epitome of danger, the numbers tell a different story. According to the most recent statistics released by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), between 2000 and 2009 the Atlantic scallop fishery and the Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery were the nation’s two most hazardous, based of fatality rates.

Of the 57 fishermen who took the safety training course on Thursday, 20 returned on Friday for a drill conductor training course run by Blaney and Cabral.

Coast Guard regulations require monthly drills on commercial fishing boats operating beyond outside the three-mile limit. Downeast, that’s almost every boat.

The monthly drills cover many of the same topics taught in the safety course — man overboard situations, fire, damage control and abandon ship. The drills must be run by certified drill conductors.

Friday’s course was scheduled to include an emergency procedures class in the morning and practice drills aboard a docked vessel in the afternoon.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]
Stephen Rappaport

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