STONINGTON— If at first you succeed, come on back for a second bite of the apple.
That seems to be the mantra for the Lifejackets for Lobstermen project which, since the beginning of April, has brought educational materials and personal flotation devices to harbors along the Maine and Massachusetts coasts.
The goal is to persuade lobstermen that they should wear lifejackets when they fish. A variety of flotation vests, jackets and coveralls are made available on the dock that lobstermen can buy at reduced prices.
All the devices in the vans were selected based on feedback from more than 550 commercial lobstermen.
As of the beginning of this month, vans from the project have twice visited 43 harbors promoting better safety and the message seems to be getting though. The project vans visited ports between Blue Hill and Sorrento, including stops on Mount Desert Island, in late September and early October.
“We have sold 766 PFDs (personal flotation devices) so far,” Rebecca Weil, research coordinator at the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety (NEC), said in an email last week.
The draw is understandable. Falls overboard are the most frequent cause of death in the Northeast lobster fishing industry. These events can happen in a split second with no time to put on life saving gear.
“I’ve never fallen overboard, but I’ve lost a boot once. That scared me enough,” a Bass Harbor lobstermen told the project crew while buying a lifejacket when the van visited the Mount Desert Island town last summer. “My sternman got his leg caught in some rope and got pulled to the rail, but got out before going over. That scared me more than it scared him. My sternman’s my nephew.”
This week, Weil said, the project’s vans will be back in Maine, visiting several ports and “filling in gaps for fishermen who wanted to reach the vans and have requested the vans.” NEC runs the project in collaboration with the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Fishing Partnership Support Services, the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, McMillan Offshore Survival Training and the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association.
Weil said a Lifejackets for Lobstermen van will be on the Stonington Fish Pier at 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, Friday, Nov. 8, and Monday, Nov. 11.
Next week, the van will be in Vinalhaven at 9 a.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, in Harpswell at 10 a.m. on Thursday and at Hamilton Marine in Portland at 10 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 18.
The draw is understandable.
“Everyone knows someone that never came home,” said a Phippsburg lobsterman who bought lifejackets from the van last summer. “I’d never worn a lifejacket, and I never really thought about it.”
After the Lifejackets for Lobstermen program called him during a survey of lobstermen’s attitudes toward PFDs, he said, “it got me thinking, and I keep thinking about it.”