Fishermen and leisure craft – lifejackets.

29th August 2018

Fishermen and leisure craft – lifejackets.

Initial Report


Two reports highlighting the dangers of not wearing a lifejacket.

What the Reporter told us (1):

I have read with interest and concern that casualties involving fishermen not wearing lifejackets continue to occur with an alarming frequency. This is despite a number of regulatory authorities and charitable organisations raising continued awareness of the risks, and resulting fatalities amongst fishermen.

Recently, I observed a local fisherman clearly demonstrating an example of what is wrong with the fishing industry.  I attach photographs which help best explain my concern for his safety.

 In this case the fisherman returned to port safely, but it is sad to see that, despite the efforts to warn fishermen, there is still such a low level of personal safety awareness, not least in working without a lifejacket.



                                                       A small fishing vessel – the sole occupant is not wearing any floatation aid.

What the Reporter told us (2):

I observed a small boat used for angling, and it appears that they may have run out of fuel, or perhaps the fuel was contaminated. Either way, the boat was less than five cables from the entrance of the harbour they had just left. I watched as they drifted along the coast in order to make sure that they did not get into further trouble. Neither of the boat’s occupants appeared to be wearing personal floatation devices, even though one of them was standing on the outboard stern platform!

                                                             A small leisure vessel used for angling – no lifejackets being worn.

 As a basic precaution before departing for sea check your fuel quantity and, if you haven’t used the engine for a long time, check the fuel quality for diesel bugs or water.  Wear a life jacket and lifeline when working near the side and preferably at all times in a small boat.  It may also be prudent to drop anchor until the engine is working again. In this case the depth of water was not deep, as evidenced by the fishing marker buoy. 

CHIRP Comment:

The Maritime Advisory Board discussed these reports and commented that the main issue is not the activity that the fishermen were engaged in, but rather the problems that could arise if any of the occupants fell overboard. All fishermen should take their personal safety into account by conducting a (dynamic) risk assessment into the possibility of falling overboard. By “dynamic” we mean, if necessary, think about the logical steps that are required to complete an unexpected task and the associated dangers that may arise and take the time to mitigate the risk. In cases like this, working outside the gunwales / bulwarks of the vessel, IT IS YOUR LIFE AT RISK! The risk assessment might include the following;

  • With the particular activity that you are engaged in, what could go wrong, and equally importantly what are you going to do if something does go wrong?
  • If you fall overboard, how do you get back on board? For instance, does the boat have external grab lines or a rope ladder to aid boarding?
  • In the event that you do fall overboard, a Personal Location Beacon (PLB) will increase your chance of a rapid rescue. These are small, have a battery life of approximately 24 hours, and should be registered with the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre.
  • A Personal Floatation Device (PFD) is an absolute must for all personnel involved in maritime leisure activities, and in the commercial fishing sector. PFD’s can be “constant wear” and must be worn outside any other clothing such as waterproofs. They do not obstruct any activity.
  • Consider wearing buoyant clothing – depending upon the activity, several types of buoyant clothing are available.
  • For single-handed operations, who knows where you are and what time you are expected to return?

TAKE NOTE: If you do fall overboard then there is an immediate risk of cold shock – this is the immediate response of the body to a sudden unexpected immersion in water where the temperature is 15°C or less. The effect is short term, but the immediate response is gasping so instead of taking in air, water might be inhaled. In addition, the cold water immediately reduces circulation which can induce heart failure even in healthy persons. All of the foregoing affect your ability to swim back to safety and also affect your physical ability to pull yourself out of the water to save yourself. Remember, the longer you are in the water the weaker you will become. Therefore, a lifejacket is essential in order to allow this short-term response to pass and to increase your chance of survival. The following link has more information.

RNLI – Cold Water Shock


There are many other aspects of personal safety which improve your chances of not falling overboard, and these could equally form part of a personal safety risk assessment. For example, non-slip paint on decks and appropriate footwear, and perhaps additional railings or temporary grab lines.

The following resources give additional valuable information to both leisure and commercial fishermen and expand upon some of the comments above. Reading and acting upon the contents is highly recommended in order to ensure your own safety, so that you return to your loved ones and do not become another unwanted statistic.

MCA – Fisherman’s Safety Guide


RNLI – Commercial Fishing


MSN 1851(F) Code of Practice for the safety of small fishing vessels (less than 15m)

MCA – Small craft codes


RNLI – Yacht sailing and motor boats


With respect to the reporters’ comments related to fuel, it is agreed that fuel quantity should be checked prior to departure. As reported, it seems to be quite incongruous that one would run out of fuel so soon after departure.

Report Ends





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