Coast Guard keeps busy during first week of Dungeness crab season

A Station Grays Harbor coxswain aboard a 47-foot motor lifeboat adjusts throttles while alongside a disabled commercial fishing vessel off Copalis Head, WA, Friday, Dec. 3. The vessel requested Coast Guard assistance transiting to safe harbor after becoming disabled with approximately 100,000 pounds of crab aboard. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Station Grays Harbor)

A Station Grays Harbor coxswain aboard a 47-foot motor lifeboat adjusts throttles while alongside a disabled commercial fishing vessel off Copalis Head, WA, Friday, Dec. 3. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Station Grays Harbor)

SEATTLE — Coast Guard crews across the Pacific Northwest have towed 10 disabled or distressed commercial fishing vessels back to port in the first week of the Dungeness crab season which began Dec. 1.

These tow operations, along with numerous safety escorts, have ensured the safe passage of several fishing crews and more than 100,000 pounds of crab, through hazardous bar conditions.

Coast Guard crews stationed in Grays Harbor, Cape Disappointment, Coos Bay, and Chetco River, have contributed to the total of 10 tows. Other vessels have also been escorted across the bar. These safety escorts are conducted when dictated by hazardous conditions. The start of the Dungeness crab season has coincided with several bar restrictions as a result of rough conditions encountered at the bar.

When a bar restriction is in place, the operation of recreational and uninspected passenger vessels of the length specified in the restriction is PROHIBITED unless specifically authorized by the Coast Guard.

In the event that a commercial fisherman intends to cross a bar while hazardous conditions exist, the Coast Guard recommends following at a minimum the safety checklist items below and requires that commercial fisherman adhere to additional regulations while bar restrictions are in place (33 CFR 165.1196 and 165.1325).

  • Check current bar conditions, weather forecasts, and tides tables
  • Check bar restrictions and notify the Coast Guard if intending to cross the bar if vessel length is less than the restriction length
    • DO NOT CROSS if a Captain of the Port (COTP) closure is in effect
  • If crossing a restricted bar after sunset and before sunrise, commercial fisherman MUST notify the Coast Guard
  • Notifications shall include:
    • Vessel name
    • Vessel location
    • Number of persons on board
    • Destination (inbound, outbound, etc.)
    • Vessel limitations (steering, propulsion, etc.)
  • Discuss escort options with the Coast Guard if necessary
  • Complete thorough inspection of spaces and ensure all doors and hatches are secure
  • Secure all loose gear on deck
  • After crossing the bar:
    • Account for all personnel aboard the vessel
    • Report safe crossing to the Coast Guard

Commercial fisherman are required to wear personal flotation devices or immersion suits if on deck while crossing the bar during active bar restrictions. The use of a personal floatation is recommended at all times while on deck. If mariners are operating within closed spaces aboard a vessel, personal flotation devices must be readily available.

“Coast Guard rescue personnel continue to put in long hours working in hazardous conditions to ensure the safety of the commercial fishing fleet,” said Lt. Carl Eschler, chief investigations officer at Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Portland. “Although commercial fishing vessels are not prohibited from crossing a restricted bar, it should be noted that Coast Guard personnel stationed along the coast have used their professional maritime experience and knowledge of local environmental conditions to place restrictions on the bar by determining that unsafe conditions exist.”

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