Workers in the commercial fishing industry face wind, water, and temperature extremes along with boating, mechanical, and ergonomic hazards while doing their jobs. Knowledge of the hazards, boat training and experience, and plenty of preparation can get you and your catch to market safely.
The biggest hazard while boating is capsizing. Ensure that you have a seaworthy boat, properly configured, and equipped for the water and weather that you may encounter. Make sure that you have loaded the vessel properly and evenly to maintain stability; do not exceed the carrying capacity of the boat or its structural elements. Perform regular maintenance and ensure that you do an equipment safety check before leaving port. Carry plenty of fuel, tools, and spare parts on board.
Make a “float plan” to outline your route and fishing areas, before setting out to fish. File this plan along with your expected return date with a responsible party. Before leaving port, check the weather and then continually check it throughout your voyage. Watch for “icing” which can place extra weight on deck equipment and supplies, and destabilize the vessel. Get the updated charts for the areas that you will be fishing. Watch for signposts for dangerous spots, snags, etc. Many such hazards are not posted at all; so maintain a constant vigilance while you are underway.
Keep the boat safety equipment in good order. Make sure there are enough life vests, floats, emergency lights, and/or immersion suits for everyone on board. Brief everyone on the vessel about the safety procedures and equipment. Conduct safety drills, if necessary. Carry food, water, and a first aid kit on board. Ensure that you have a radio, satellite, or cellular phone to communicate your location and status to other vessels and the coastal authorities.
Wear the appropriate gear for your fishing operation and climate. Sturdy, reinforced-toe work boots with a non-slip sole protect your feet while work gloves protect your hands. Long sleeved shirts and pants protect your skin from the sun. Foul-weather gear can protect you from cold and wet conditions.
While maintaining a vigilant eye on the weather, the water conditions, and your boat, keep an eye on the hazards involved with the fishing equipment and materials that you are using. Avoid collapsing booms and lifts by ensuring that they are maintained properly and not used in excess of their capacity. Watch for potential pinch points and entanglement hazards in wenches, hoists, and lifts. Don’t wear loose clothing, jewelry or long hair. Use extreme caution when under tow. Remove all unnecessary personnel from the towed vessel, don your personal flotation device, and maintain a close and watchful eye on vessel stability.
Practice chemical safety by reading the safety data sheets (SDS) for all of the chemicals on board. Know the hazards and properties of the fuel(s) you are using and use safe work practices around them. Keep bilges clean to prevent the buildup of fuel or fumes. Think about each situation before you enter a confined space, weld, grind, or conduct electrical work.
Fishing is hard physical work in often-extreme conditions. Maintain a healthy lifestyle with plenty of rest, exercise, and fluids. Practice good ergonomics by using neutral postures; keep your back straight and conduct your tasks as close to your body as possible. Use proper lifting techniques and avoid lifting extreme loads. Take frequent rest breaks, at least every 30 minutes, and rotate your tasks throughout your work shift.
They say the worst day fishing beats the best day at work; strict attention to safety details will ensure that you keep fishing and working.