Free exams for a safer sea

by Petty Officer 3rd Class Connie Terrell

“The sea is a treacherous place,” said Richard Fitzgerald, a Coast Guard auxilarist. “We’re trying to make it safer.”

To help keep fishermen safe, Fitzgerald and fellow auxilarist, Richard Skryness, travel from Boston to Newburyport, Mass., providing free dockside safety exams as part of the Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Program.

The duo perform the exams to check for required safety equipment, that the equipment works properly and that it’s accessible when needed.

“We check things fishermen may forget about like fire extinguishers,” said Skryness.

Patrick Santos, captain of the Gloucester, Mass., -based fishing boat Rizla II, said he gets the exams because not only was he on a boat that caught fire once, but he also lost his father to the sea.

In addition, the examiners check the boat’s navigation lights and alarms and provide the fishermen with ways of making their boat safer.

“At first the fishermen were pretty reluctant to have someone else come look around their boat – it’s like their office,” Skryness said. “They embrace it now.”

The exam gives fishermen the knowledge that they meet requirements and improves safety in the fishing industry, Skryness said. Also, once a fisherman gets the exam decal, a Coast Guard boarding could run a lot smoother.

Although the exam doesn’t exempt fishermen from a Coast Guard boarding, it may reduce the amount of time spent aboard and the fishermen can get back to work sooner, Skryness said.

There is no penalty for failing the free dockside exam, but if the Coast Guard later boards the boat, they may receive penalties if there are discrepancies found that need to be corrected.

The examiner uses a checklist to indicate which gear the boat has and which it still needs. At the end of the exam, the boat’s captain receives a copy of the form and will be able to see what is needed to comply with regulations. If the vessel failed to have the required gear, the captain will not receive a decal until he corrects the discrepancies and notifies the examiners. If the boat passes, the captain will receive a decal for their boat that is valid for one year.

When they don’t have any exams scheduled, Skryness and Fitzgerald walk the piers and talk with the fishermen, get to know them, and sometimes even get asked for a free safety exam.

Fishermen interested in getting a free dockside safety exam should contact their local Coast Guard unit.

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