Video Length: 6 minutes and 40 seconds
From fishing vessels to water taxis, tugboats to police craft, small non-pleasure 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 non-pleasure vessel, it’s your responsibility to make sure your vessel operates safely and is properly equipped for emergencies.
“Well it’s the thirtieth of July in Otter Creek, Terrington Basin in Lake Melville, Labrador. It must be twenty eight degrees here now. Everyone is sweating a bit but if you fell in the water, you’d know there’s a difference. The water here has warmed up quite a bit because it’s summer time but it doesn’t take very long. In fact, you’ll probably gasp.”
“When the cold water hits your chest you will hyperventilate. Your blood pressure goes way up. If you’re elderly that can be fatal. If you’re under water when you take that gasp reflex your lungs fill with water. You have no buoyancy unless you have some buoyancy from flotation devices. You will probably not surface.”
“The thing that we try to tell our people is to be safe out there on the water and we have a lifejacket loaning program here in Nain. We also have some children’s lifejackets that they can borrow. The closest place to get a life jacket is about three hundred miles from here; the closest store where you can buy a lifejacket.”
‘Today, in about an hour’s time we’ll be top high tide and I know, for the next hour or two, then conditions will be normal. But, as the tide falls, between the islands and stuff there’ll be some pretty strong currents. It’s also good for predicting fuel as well. It certainly saves on fuel depending where you are and it’s harder on fuel depending on the tide rising or falling. So it’s all part of your trip plans regardless of if I’m doing patrols or if I’m on personal time. I try to watch the tides the best I can.”
It doesn’t matter if it’s winter or summer – hypothermia is a serious danger for anybody working on the water. If you operate a vessel in water colder than 15 degrees Celsius, you’re required to have procedures in place or equipment to protect everybody on board from hypothermia and cold shock resulting from immersion in the water.
“The last thing that I want my clients to do is worry about safety, I want them to worry about catching a fish and just make them feel comfortable that this boat is up to snuff, so to speak, and just give them a calming sense that they’re in good hands.”
So what procedures can you put in place? First, you’re required to hold safety briefings with passengers before any voyage begins – similar to those given on an aircraft. Show them how to use any safety equipment and tell them how to react during an emergency, including what to do if they fall overboard.
You also need to brief your own crew on all safety procedures to make sure everybody knows their role during an emergency. Lifejackets and personal floatation devices are essential, of course. But remember, a P-F-D only works if you’re actually wearing it. Because cold-water exposure can cause swimming failure within minutes, you might not have time to put it on once you’re in the water.
Workboat crews should also consider wearing floatation suits and other specialized equipment. If someone falls overboard, it’s critical to get them out of the water as quickly as possible. Installing equipment like a reboarding ladder, helps get a person out of the water without putting others at risk. Once the person is back on board, you’ll need to keep them warm. Blankets should always be on hand and, if possible, wrapped so they keep dry until needed.
“The water is quite cold here, this time of the year, and hypothermia would set in pretty quickly. If you’re not wearing a life jacket or PFD you can seize up pretty quick.”
“If you’re wearing an immersion suit you won’t get cold shock. If you’re wearing floater coveralls or a floater coat they will stave off hypothermia but they will not really eliminate cold shock. You do get wet wearing those but they will provide you with buoyancy and they will give you some insulation. If you stay dry you do not get cold shock and that’s the biggest killer.
“Owners of small vessels have an obligation to ensure compliance, which is outlined in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. One of the tools by which they can meet that obligation is the Small Vessel Compliance Program.”
To help operators better understand their legal responsibilities, Transport Canada has developed the Small Vessel Compliance Program. It includes an easy-to-use checklist to help you make sure your vessel is meeting its safety requirements.
“It’s a guide for boat owners or authorized representatives, so it helps owners a lot with complying with the Transport Canada regulations.”
Small vessel operators enrolled in the program are given a blue decal to display on their vessel, indicating their commitment to safety.
“You can’t get enough information when you’re out on these things in the conditions that we find ourselves in sometimes. So I really am sold on what the Blue Decal is all about and I will continue to try to sell it to other people. I wish there were more people that had it out here.”
“Fishing is my passion in life but the thing that supersedes fishing is making sure that my guests are safe and comfortable. It’s my vessel, my business, and my responsibility.
For more information about the Small Vessel Compliance Program – or about treating hypothermia and cold shock – visit the Transport Canada Marine Safety website.