As UK MAIB reports in its most recent Safety Digest, a crewman fell overboard a fishing vessel, while the boat continued its passage with the sleeping skipper unaware of the situation.
On a bright, fresh autumn morning, a small trawler left harbour for a day’s fishing with a skipper and crewman on board. Once past the breakwater, the skipper handed over the watch to the crewman and went below to rest. The crewman was wearing light clothing and a personal flotation device (PFD) and carried a personal locator beacon (PLB).
During the passage to the fishing grounds, with the vessel under autohelm steering, the crewman left the wheelhouse to prepare the fishing gear on deck. As he was leaning over the transom to rig the trawl wires, the crewman lost his balance and fell into the sea; his PFD inflated and he shouted to get the skipper’s attention but this was not heard. The crewman then activated his PLB to raise the alarm ashore. The fishing vessel continued its passage with the sleeping skipper unaware that the crewman was overboard.
The coastguard received the PLB’s signal and immediately initiated the launch of two local lifeboats and a search and rescue (SAR) helicopter. Other vessels in the area were also alerted. The trawler’s skipper awoke during the SAR operation and informed the coastguard that his crewman was missing. At about the same time, the crewman was located and rescued by a lifeboat; he was transferred by helicopter to hospital, where he was found to be unharmed by his experience.
- Equipment: PFDs save lives. The crewman was in the water for about 80 minutes before being rescued, which is a significant period of time to survive in seawater without lifesaving equipment. The PFD was absolutely crucial in keeping the crewman afloat, with his head out of the water; because there was no need for him to tread water to continue breathing, he could save his energy while awaiting rescue.
- Communicate: PLBs also save lives. Because the crewman carried and activated a PLB, the coastguard was alerted to the emergency almost immediately and able to send rescue assets quickly. It is impossible to know the delay that would have been incurred had the alarm not been raised until the skipper realised he was alone; however, it is likely to have been significant. Importantly, a PLB transmits the distressed individual’s position to the coastguard, which is vital for both a swift and effective search and the survival of the person in the water. A PLB is smaller than a mobile phone and a relatively inexpensive item of safety equipment that, in this case, undoubtedly contributed to the successful outcome of this rescue.
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