Essential Safety Equipment for Fishing Boat Owners

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Skippers of all sizes and types of fishing boats and vessels in the UK and Europe that catch ocean fish have multiple important responsibilities including the safety of their crew members and their vessels. In addition, they must be well prepared to navigate their fishing routes and areas carefully, always maintaining full awareness of the other fishing boats and crews they encounter. Whether an experienced, expert skipper is piloting an inland fishing boat, a coastal fishing boat or an offshore privately-owned or commercial fishing vessel, safety precautions are constantly a major concern. While skippers of inland small fishing boats must meet basic operational and safety training requirements, skippers of larger boats and vessels must have 18 months of training on board a vessel traveling the seas. In addition, they may be required to qualify for and receive a Certificate of Competency from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, especially if they are piloting large commercial fishing boats through rough or busy waterways.

Inland Fishing Boats
Inland or inshore small fishing boats fish near a coastline. Even for these smaller vessels or aluminium fishing boats, skippers must ensure that every fishing vessel leaving the shore adheres closely to all maritime laws and regulations. They must also follow any international rulings that may govern in ocean water where they are fishing. Additionally, all skippers must be certain that all vessel operational and safety equipment is in excellent working condition to help assure a safe trip and the safety of the crew members. It is their job to carefully plan the fishing trip and to coordinate the boat’s return to land and a profitable sale of the fish caught. Most fishing boats that are larger than single-hand management vessels now make use of electronic and digital systems and networks to aid navigation and communications, determine fish location and oversee safe storage of fresh ocean fish caught for sale.

Inland small fishing boats normally return to their shoreline of departure at the end of each day’s work. However, days spent on the sea can be long and arduous, depending on the weather and conditions of sea travel. Both skippers and their crew members must always be clear-headed and alert in order to handle any unexpected change such as rough areas of water or inclement weather. Unexpected high wind and wave levels are always of concern to pilots of small fishing boats. Crews must be attuned to even slight shifts and changes in weather conditions, whether they are at work on the bridge or the deck. They must be able to perform their necessary tasks even in heavy storm and gale conditions to assure a well-managed, profitable day at sea and a safe journey home in their small fishing boats or aluminium fishing boats.

After successfully completing both Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) training and Seafish training, each inshore fishing boat skipper is fully prepared with comprehensive safety measures well in mind for crew members’ health and safety at sea, first aid safety, fire prevention and fighting, and sea survival techniques. Since the fishing industry in the UK is centered around the northeast coastal area of Scotland the southwestern England, all skippers and crew members must be very familiar with the landscape and seascape in these locales as well as normal water and weather conditions. Fortunately, even small aluminium fishing boats today are usually equipped with at least some electronic and digital communications and navigational tools for added safety during fishing trips.

These boats usually carry smaller life boats or rafts as well along with life jackets and flotation devices for all crew members. Fire extinguishing equipment is also a requirement for fishing boats, and manually operated navigating tools are also on board to enable safe sea travel in case of power or transmission failure of electronic or digital devices. Protective clothing, caps, sunglasses, rain slickers, ponchos or weather-proofed vests and jackets are also usually part of each crew member’s gear along with topical sunscreen and wind protection aids. Extra food and water supplies are also carried in storage areas of the boat in case of any delays in returning to shore. First aid kits are required on all boats, and both skippers and head crew members have CPR and basic first aid training in case of a medical emergency. Vessel owners are aware that every fishing boat must also be equipped with basic tools and supplies for maintenance and simple repairs of the vessel. Extra nets and items of fishing equipment are also stored on board in case of breakage or malfunction of any fishing equipment in use by the crew.

Coastal Fishing Boats

Some of the information and skills necessary for skippering a larger coastal fishing boat include:

  • Extensive knowledge of the ocean and varied weather patterns;
  • Basic understanding and usage of electronic and digital equipment and principles of engineering;
  • Thorough comprehension of all regulations pertaining to fishing vessels, both British and international;
  • Strong commitment to maintaining the safety of your crew members and yourself as skipper;
  • Good ability to lead and inspire your crew to work together as a cohesive team;
  • Strong capability to handle difficult, dangerous or emergency situations and occurrences calmly and effectively;
  • Outstanding ability to make quick decisions; and
  • Ongoing commitment to maintaining personal fitness and good health.

Surveyors from the MCA and inspectors connected with Great Britain’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) are authorized to stop and detain vessels that do not meet safety standards or are proceeding along their courses in an irresponsible or dangerous manner. Many potential accidents have been prevented by such water safety measures enforcement for fishing boats, particularly larger coastal fishing vessels and commercial fishing boats.

MCA has the right and responsibility to uphold all merchant shipping rules and laws relative to crew members’ personal health and safety while at sea on a coastal fishing boat. MCA inspectors are well trained to make judgments concerning a boat’s safety on the seas, safe and unsafe boat operations including navigation, and competency levels of individual crew members as they perform various tasks. Any occurrence of dangerous diseases, conditions and activities must be reported and investigated in order to ensure a totally safe onboard living and working situation while each commercial fishing boat trip is in progress.

Many items of equipment normally carried aboard coastal fishing boats now have modern features that make their use much safer to both the business of fishing and the security and well-being of the vessel’s skipper and crew members. For instance, modern, streamlined anchoring and mooring hardware, lines and operational mechanisms make anchoring and mooring in unfamiliar harbors and marinas much easier whenever necessary boat or equipment repairs or replacements are crucial to completing a successful fishing trip. Sophisticated boat lifts that can safely raise these vessels to high-level piers and boat yard repair areas are especially reassuring to vessel pilots and crews when unexpected damage to a fishing boat in transit on the seas calls for immediate repairs to enable a safe journey homeward to the original point of departure.

Certain pieces of modern coastal fishing equipment not only make the act and process of fishing easier, they also afford an efficiency and ease of use that reduce exertion and fatigue that once was an inescapable part of the work of fishing boat crews. For example, the process of selectivity for fishing equipment and gear reveals the time and manual labor conservation provided by the latest designs in square mesh panels, large-sized mesh panels, inclined grids and codends for today’s commercial fishing boat teams.

Since efficiency of gear greatly increases the total fishing catch value relative to the vessel’s usage of fuel for the trip, the fishing boat crew’s labor becomes much more cost-efficient. While profits increase, the crew’s work is lightened and often the total time required for the fishing trip is markedly reduced. Wear-and-tear on the crew, their working stress and fatigue levels and necessary operational expenditures for the fishing expedition are decreased. For numerous fishing businesses, use of multi-rigs greatly enhances overall efficiency simply by lessening drag. Modern improved fishing gear includes trawl doors, warps and fishing nets. Ordinary fishing equipment is transformed into cost and time-effective devices that reduce unhealthy exertion and fatigue of fishermen, thus becoming a strong safety measure for keeping a commercial fishing boat crew healthy and productive.

Although it may seem of minor importance when considering the modern features of fishing gear that offer safety improvements of benefit to both fishermen and the success of a commercial fishing boat trip, even safety aspects of the crew’s protective clothing and safety gear have been strengthened. For instance, Life jackets, fishing boots, quilted or down vests and jackets are all made of much lighter weight materials now, lessening the extra weight and cumbersome quality endured by fishermen in earlier days of fishing trips. In addition, life rafts and flotation equipment are also lighter in weight now and much easier to carry and move around the fishing vessel as needed.

Offshore Fishing and Commercial Fishing Vessels

Currently, there are various regulations concerning the size and/or power of commercial fishing vessels within inshore waterways of Great Britain. Many of these restrictions are imposed by Sea Fisheries Committees. For example, Council Regulation No. 2371/2002 prohibits beam trawlers of more than 221 kW with larger than 9 m aggregate beam expanse from performing fishing operations closer than 12 Nm off the UK coastline. For this reason, these large commercial fishing trawlers are moving farther offshore to allow more room for smaller, inland fishing boats, which are more limited in water travel and fishing capacities. This restriction also enforces a safety precaution with the purpose of preventing any collisions between small inland fishing boats or aluminium fishing boats and larger commercial fishing boats.

Large sized trawlers and other commercial fishing vessels utilize more safety equipment and measures than do most small fishing boats due to their more extensive sea travel and fishing capacities, more sophisticated rigs and equipment, and larger crews. With more time spent at sea, these vessels must carry large quantities of fire extinguishers, first aid supplies, life boats and flotation equipment as well as extra supplies of food and water. When fishing trawlers are scheduled to be at sea for several weeks or months, at least one crew member must be well trained in CPR and basic first aid treatments. Simple bandages, topical antiseptics and anti-bacterial applications as well as tourniquets are included in first aid kits, and a limited supply of oxygen is also usually on board.

The Royal National lifeboat institution (RNLI) is well respected for its active sea safety educational training for vessel crews as well as its outstanding record for mariner rescues during storms or vessel accidents. RNLI officers offer ongoing seafaring safety demonstrations on coastal piers in order to teach vessel crews proper use of emergency equipment and procedures. This valuable maritime safety institution also conducts sea travel and equipment studies and offers sea survival techniques training.

Since between 70 and 80 percent of fuel consumption by large fishing trawlers is commonly used for towing necessary gear, accurate fuel flow meters can be of great help to skippers in calculating the engine’s fuel intake during fishing trips. These meters are also vital safety devices to busy skippers and engine room crew members since they aid in preventing serious fuel leakage or low fuel supplies that might otherwise go without necessary monitoring and detection.

Towed fishing gear that is crucial to the success of offshore fishing trips and commercial fishing boats includes:

Beam trawl. - A trawl to be towed along the ocean floor. Its open fish netting is supported by a beam of wood or steel.
Otter trawl. - A trawl requiring a large net that is towed along the sea floor. Its open fish netting is supported by two paired otter boards (also called trawl doors).
Pair trawl. - A trawl positioned between a pair of boats and towed on the sea’s floor or at mid-ocean level. Its open netting is supported by the two fishing vessels.
Twin rig trawl. - A technique of towing two adjacent otter trawls in the sea.
Multi-rig trawl. - A technique of towing two or more adjacent otter trawls.
Dredge. - A rigid apparatus towed along the seafloor that is most often used to catch shellfish.

Although these items are all common among commercial fishing boats tow gear with which all crew members are quite familiar, they must be constantly examined and kept in good working condition to promote the safety of all fishermen as well as the success of each offshore fishing trip. If any of these items of equipment are damaged or out of working order, crews many need to resort to substituting other types of trawls or equipment. This could pose some safety hazards and dangerous fishing conditions for vessel crews.

Other necessary gear types for safe and profitable offshore fishing and commercial fishing vessels are classified as encircling gear and static gear. Each item of these gear categories must be continuously inspected and maintained in excellent operating order to ensure safe, secure and successful fishing trips for everyone involved. Each piece of encircling gear is designed in a circular shape for the purpose of enclosing and capturing a shoal of fish. Encircling gear includes:

Ring net. - A net commonly operated with the aid of a pair of boats that encompasses a shoal of fish (pelagic) with a netting wall to capture them.
Purse seine. - A large-sized fishing net for encircling a shoal of fish (pelagic). This netting closes at the bottom to ensure capture of the fish.
Beach seine. - An encircling design of fish netting that is launched from smaller aluminium fishing boats and pulled to shore with the aid of roping.
Anchor seine. - An encircling netting design launched in open areas of the sea using long extensions of roping and an anchored boat. Anchor seine is also referred to as Danish seine.
Scottish seine. - An encircling fishing net design launched in open sea areas with long roping extensions and a moving boat. This process is often referred to as fly-shooting or fly-dragging.

Especially due to its circular working design, all encircling gear for use by large offshore and commercial fishing boats must be examined carefully before and after each fishing expedition to detect any entanglement and ensure safe operation by and for professional fishermen.

The purpose of static fishing gear is to lure fish into it, sometimes using enticing bait, so they can be captured by crews of offshore commercial fishing trawlers and vessels. Various types of static gear include:

Fixed nets. - Thin fish netting sheets that are placed and secured by anchors at strategic sea locations and water levels to catch fish.
Drift nets. - Thin fish netting sheets set adrift with sea currents to entangle and capture fish.
Long lines. - Very long fishing lines with multiple baited hooks. These lines may be set adrift or anchored.
Traps. - Fish traps, creels or structured pots designed with funnel guides to attract fish inside and inhibit their possibility of escaping.

All types of gear necessary to offshore commercial fishing success including towing gear, encircling gear and static gear must be carefully monitored and inspected before and following each fishing trip. If any of these gear items, crucial to profitable offshore fishing businesses, should malfunction or incur damage while fishing trawlers are away from shore, both the safety of crew members and the success of the fishing endeavor could be seriously at risk.

There are aspects of maritime safety that must be thoroughly understood and addressed by all fishing boat and vessel owners. Whether they own and operate inland small fishing boats, larger coastal fishing boats or expansive offshore ocean trawlers and other commercial fishing boats, these active members of the sea fishing industry must always put safety and security first for the protection of their seafaring crews and the ongoing stability and profitability of their ocean-based enterprises.

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General sources:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/aboutus/howwework/framework/mou/mcamou.pdf

https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/jobprofiles/Pages/fishingvesselskipper.aspx

https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/jobprofiles/Pages/fishingvesselskipper.aspx

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