Coast Guard focuses on mariner safety in Chesapeake Bay

BALTIMORE – Coast Guard Sector Baltimore personnel are conducting efforts to improve commercial fishing safety in the Maryland area to coincide with the start of the cold weather season, which is inherently dangerous due to low water temperatures and changing sea states.

The Coast Guard’s Operation Safe Catch focuses on increasing the rate of compliance with safety regulations by interacting with the commercial fishing industry and recreational boaters to improve their risk management practices.

Commercial fishing is one of the most hazardous occupations in the United States. On average, more than 40 people die annually while conducting commercial fishing operations. It accounts for 27 percent of the five-year average of commercial mariner deaths and injuries.

Sector Baltimore units involved in Operation Safe Catch will focus their efforts on mariners operating from the upper Chesapeake Bay to the National Capital Region.

According to statistics gathered by Maryland Natural Resources Police from 2004 to 2009, there have been 945 accidents resulting in 54 fatalities and 617 injuries. Some of the primary causes are equipment failure, inexperience and weather.

During the operation, Coast Guard boarding teams and dockside examiners will check safety equipment on both recreational and commercial fishing vessels. Some examples of what will be checked are immersion suits, survival craft, survival craft stowage, distress signals, emergency position indicating radio beacons, fire extinguishers, high-water alarms, watertight integrity, damaged or broken hoses, stability letters and vessel overloading.

Coast Guard examiners will concentrate on “high risk” vessels. These are vessels in poor condition with inadequate safety equipment, have a history of repeated search and rescue interventions, or engage in higher risk fishery operations such as one-person fishing vessels.

The Coast Guard, along with the help of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, hopes to improve mariner involvement in the Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Exam program. The program is an information source and gives fishermen the opportunity to get a free, no-fault vessel safety exam on their boats in order to help improve their overall safety.

The safey check is a free courtesy examination focusing on improving the overall safety conditions of the boat and its passengers and is conducted by a trained vessel examiner.

A vessel safety exam is also a way to learn about the existence of violations or potential problems that might create dangerous situations for passengers and help mariners become more aware of safety related procedures. The vessel examiner will provide a copy of the examination form as a written record of identified safety related issues, recommendations and suggestions.

Reasons for dockside exams:

  • Increases the chances for a safe return
  • Reduces the length of time the Coast Guard spends on a vessel if you’re boarded at sea
  • Reduces the chance of a voyage being terminated for safety violations
  • Dockside exams are done at the mariner’s convenience

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