Training to survive: Commercial fishermen practice skills to stay alive at sea

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by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn

A Drill Conductor Marine Safety and Survival course student throws a line to a classmate in the John Day River in Astoria, Thurday, May 31, 2012. The two-day, hands-on course provided fishermen and mariners an opportunity to practice using onboard safety equipment in preparation for use in emergency situations. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn

ASTORIA, Ore. — There is nothing more valuable to human life than the knowledge and skills required to preserve it. Sharing survival strategies is an inherently human behavior and an important asset to our success as a species. A recent course held in Astoria offered students exactly that sort of value. The course, specifically designed to educate commercial fisherman on how to survive maritime emergencies, offered a host of information and practical experience aimed at saving their lives.

Drill Conductor Marine Safety and Survival course students get acquainted with the use of flares near the Columbia River in Astoria, Wednesday, May 30, 2012. The two-day, hands-on course provided fishermen and mariners an opportunity to practice using onboard safety equipment in preparation for use in emergency situations. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn

The two-day Drill Conductor Marine Safety and Survival Training course, offered through a partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, Oregon Crab Commission and Oregon Sea Grant at no cost the students, met commercial fishing vessel legal requirements for safety standards.

The course included activities and information relating to personal safety gear, safety regulations, onboard drills, dewatering pumps, USCG rescue preparation, cold water survival, hypothermia, patching and plugging, marine fire fighting, vessel stability, flare/raft practicum, immersion suits/PFDs, inflatable life rafts, signal flares and EPIRBs.

Drill Conductor Marine Safety and Survival course students get acquainted with the use of flares near the Columbia River. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn

After some introductory time in a classroom, students and instructors took to the docks and the water to practice using survival equipment and working as a team.

“Talking about survival strategy is only part of the process; practicing using the equipment and knowledge in a realistic setting is what prepares fisherman to be survivors rather than casualties,” said Curt Farrell, course instructor and Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator for Marine Safety Unit, Portland, Ore.

Veteran and new fishermen alike agreed that the course provided relevant information and an opportunity to practice in a realistic setting.

“This is a really good class and a great eye-opener for guys who are new to fishing,” said Florian Mumford, a fisherman out of Ilwaco, Wash. “I’ve been fishing commercially since 1996, but even fisherman who are experienced can get a lot out of this course,” he added.

“I think we went over a lot of things that are very important,” said Jesse Chronister, a fisherman out of Sand Point, Alaska. “I’ve been fishing commercially for four years and I feel a lot safer after taking this class. I got a lot out of the drills, especially the fire and man-overboard. I learned a lot about the organization of responsibility required to avoid panic and chaos in a real-life emergency situation.”

Drill Conductor Marine Safety and Survival course students right a life raft in the John Day River in Astoria. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn

The course emphasized the relationship between equipment, training and attitude, otherwise known as the ‘survival triangle’. Regulations require certain safety equipment be on board commercial fishing vessels, but if a mariner doesn’t know how to use that equipment, it is useless. When student fishermen are formally educated about their safety equipment and then get the opportunity to practice using it in an environment supervised by maritime safety experts, the ‘survivor’s attitude’ seems to be a natural consequence. If faced with a dire situation, after proper training and practice, a person is more likely to think like a survivor.

“The attitude leg of the triangle is on the fishermen,” said Mike Rudolph, Fishing Vessel Safety Examiner for Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit, Portland. “We have seen numerous times in training where fishermen have provided feedback that their confidence level has increased significantly thanks to the hands-on nature of the training.  This confidence provides them with the notion that they can survive, and that their equipment actually works.”

The most recent course held in Astoria is part of an ongoing collaborative effort aimed at reducing fishing deaths in the Pacific Northwest.

 

Drill Conductor Marine Safety and Survival course students put on life suits in a timed drill aboard a fishing vessel in Warrenton. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn.

“In December of 2011 a fisherman fell overboard near Coos Bay, Ore.,” added Rudolph. “He was wearing a PFD while working on deck.  The crew (who were trained in one of these classes) knew the proper procedures to recover a man overboard.  He was in the water just a few moments and brought back on board with no injuries and returned to work.  He credits the wearing of his PFD and the training the crew and he received for saving his life.”

Safety training doesn’t always make headlines the way maritime accidents and fatalities do. Preventing fatalities through education and training, however, is something the Coast Guard and its partners work to do on a daily basis.

For additional information about the training efforts of Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Portland and its partners, please visit:  http://www.piersystem.com/go/doc/21/986751/Feature-Release-No-price-tag-on-safety-training .