Video Length: 4 minutes and 52 seconds
From fishing vessels to water taxis, tugboats to police craft, small commercial vessels are a common sight on Canada’s waters. But accidents can happen at any time – and to anyone. As the operator of a small commercial vessel, it’s your responsibility to make sure your vessel operates safely and is properly equipped for emergencies.
“The biggest thing about being on the ocean is things can change by the minute. Now you might think, ‘okay if something happens I have to stand here and grab this,’ it doesn’t work that way. In the back of your mind you have to be ready to perform and to change your thinking right away and instincts have to catch in right away.”
“I was out on a shark-fishing trip and I called it a day. It was too rough and it was time to come in. So I headed in with my tourists. I heard some ships talking in the background. I recognised the name of the one boat and, tragically, the vessel sank. There was a loss of life. She shipped water on her deck. He was bringing his traps in at the end of the season. He had is scupper plugs in; the water built up, built up, built up. He had a couple fenders hanging over the side of the boat and the splashing from the water was coming on board. He had water-tight decks, water tight hatches, so the water couldn’t down-flood into the engine compartment or into the bilges where it would be pumped free from the bilge pumps. Therefore, the deck filled up with water, just like a swimming pool, underneath the traps. And as the captain was coming along he hauled back on the throttle, she felt a little funny. The following sea rolled over the stern and capsized the boat.”
Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous industries in Canada. Preventing accidents begins by establishing a culture of safety on your vessel – where safety is a shared responsibility between master and crew. As the vessel’s master, this means developing safety procedures and leading by example. It also means having a properly trained crew. At the start of each season, hold an orientation session to bring new members up to speed. Show them how to find and use equipment like fire extinguishers, life rafts and immersion suits. You should also cover the proper use of rigging, deck, and navigation equipment. Conducting emergency drills throughout the season – at different times and in different conditions – will ensure your crew can act on instinct should something go wrong.
“There was one particular place that we were waiting for our crab pots to fill and I told the boys ‘what a beautiful day to go out and practice.’ So they went out swimming around, practicing holding each other’s arms and stuff like that.”
Have your crew practice what to do if somebody falls overboard, if there’s fire or flooding, or if you need to abandon ship. Assign specific roles to each person so they can take quick, decisive action.
“A boat sank out here a couple years ago. It was a big heavy boat and they took a wave. It had a whole deck load of concrete, two-thousand pound or a thousand pound concrete blocks. The blocks all shifted to one side, rolled the boat over. They spent the night upside down on her hull. Thank God there was no loss of life but it was a real lesson for that captain. You should always tie down your loads, prevent them from shifting, use adequate pen-boards, strong enough pen-boards that your fish won’t break them, and, same as your lobster traps, you don’t want them all on one side at one time.”
You should make it a habit to perform routine inspections of your safety equipment, manholes and rigging to ensure they’re in good working order. This way, any issues can be fixed before they become a problem. And accidents are more likely to happen on an untidy deck, so keep the deck clear by stowing rope in coils and tying gear down.
“That’s one thing we try and do on board is make sure that everybody knows where everything is, how it works, what to do if we need to use it. I mean, we don’t fish in the Bahamas so we always try and make sure. It’s like putting your socks on in the morning. If you’ve got to put the immersion suit on it should be just as easy as putting your socks on.”
“It’s always the skipper’s. It’s his concern and it’s his priority to make sure a boat is in good shape and the crew also. It’s our vessel, it’s our business, and it’s our responsibility.”
For more information about how you can help Canada’s waters remain a safe place to do business, visit the Transport Canada Marine Safety website.