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Safety Training Critical When Things Go Wrong At Sea

Any morning a fisherman goes out to fish, he or she expects to come home again at the end of the day. But there are so many things that can go wrong on the ocean — things that you know about and a whole bunch of things you might not expect. Safety training can’t cover everything that could happen, but it sure can improve the chances of survival in most situations.

It’s not only fishermen who need to know what to do in an emergency. Anyone on a vessel — crew, family, friends — should understand basic steps to take when things go south.

Fishing Partnership safety training shows many fishermen how much they do not know about safety at sea. Fishing Partnership photo.

Fishing Partnership Support Services, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization, has been offering free safety training workshops to fishermen since 2005. In recent years the organization expanded its range throughout New England and into the mid-Atlantic states. It now offers safety training and drill conductor training plus CPR/First Aid and fishing vessel stability classes. The safety training class is a prerequisite for the drill conductor class. The captain and crew of a fishing vessel operating in federal waters are required to practice emergency procedures for abandoning ship, firefighting, man overboard, and flooding every month. These drills must be led by someone certified as a drill conductor.

This month, Fishing Partnership will hold free safety training classes in Jonesport and Boothbay Harbor. “I took the class a few times and was impressed by it,” said Al Cattone, a Gloucester fisherman who also leads safety training classes for Fishing Partnership. “I was amazed by how much I didn’t know.” Cattone has been a groundfisherman for forty years and, like many fishermen, before taking the training felt confident that he knew what to do in a bad situation. “I’d been on the water my whole life. But I didn’t know the details of safety. With training you know what to do,” he said. “If you think you know everything you quickly see that you don’t.”

Fishing Partnership’s safety training concentrates on fundamental safety and survival skills. Through hands-on lessons, fishermen learn about EPIRBs, signal flares, MAYDAY calls, man overboard recovery, firefighting, flooding and damage control, dewatering pumps, immersion suits, PFDs, and life rafts.

“You are taking on water and the Coast Guard gives you a pump. With the class you learn to set it up and do it right so that if you have flooding, it’s not the first time when it happens,” Cattone said. “I actually had flooding . They dropped me a pump and I had a hard time getting it working.”

Chebeague Island lobsterman Jeff Putnam signed up for the safety training with his two sons, ages 15 and 14, and a fishing friend and his son. His sons fish with him, on other boats, and on their own, so he was anxious that they take the class. “It was such a great hands-on experience for the many things that could go wrong. It is great to be prepared,” Putnam said.

One element that stood out for him was the custom-made trailer brought to each training. The trailer is designed to replicate the hull of a lobster boat. Using a water hook-up, the safety trainer simulates leaks in different parts of the hull. “It’s cool. They run different scenarios and show you different ways to deal with flooding,” Putnam said.

The hands-on safety training gives participants confidence that they can cop with common emergency situations, such as flooding or fire on board a vessel. Fishing Partnership vessel.

Then there was the survival suit training. It’s not easy getting into a survival suit even at the best of times. Knowing the order of steps to take and practicing helps build a routine to fall back on when and if you need one. “The training was at the Coast Guard base in South Portland. You learn how to get the suit on. Then they fire a gun, and you get it on as fast as you can and jump into the water,” Putnam said.

“My boys learned so much, lots of things I couldn’t have taught them. You learn how important it is to stay calm, assess the situation, and figure out if you can handle it with what you have on hand. I wanted them to do it when they were young and then take it a couple times more before they get their commercial licenses,” he said.

“You are never too old to learn something new,” Cattone said. “You have to go through the class to see what you are missing, especially for younger guys starting out. Even if you pick up one new skill, it could be the one that saves you that day."

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