“Get your drills on!” contest helps fishermen prepare for emergencies

Fish Safe BC’s contest challenges commercial fishing crews to record and submit videos or photos that show how efficiently they can put on survival suits. 

Photo of fisherman donning survival suit

Fisherman demonstrates donning a survival suit during
a Safest Catch vessel visit to Terror Point II.
Photo credit: Ralph Roberts

Most of us have probably never heard of survival suits, but they’re extremely important — especially if you’re a fisherman. Survival suits are used when fishermen are preparing to abandon ship, says Ryan Ford, program manager for Fish Safe BC.

“If a vessel is sinking or at risk of capsizing, you have to get that survival suit on as quickly as possible — fully sealed right to the top of your chin so no water can get in,” Ryan says, describing why it’s important to do drills to practise putting survival suits on before the fishing season begins. “An emergency is not the time to find out the zipper needed to be waxed, the suit doesn’t fit, or the suit is otherwise compromised.”

In a typical year, Fish Safe advisors walk the wharves before fisheries open, talking about safety with crews in Port Alberni, Sidney, and other small harbour areas in B.C. But unfortunately it hasn’t been possible to do so this season because of physical distancing requirements to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Says Ryan: “We would usually be doing these safety drills with fishermen themselves, but we can’t do that work while physically distancing properly.”

So to keep that connection with fishing crews, Fish Safe has launched its first-ever Get Your Drills On! contest. They’re asking fishermen to film or photograph themselves and/or their crew doing their survival suit drills (while maintaining the appropriate physical distance from one another), and then upload the video or photos to Facebook.

On July 2, 2020, Fish Safe will select two winners randomly and award each a Grand Prize of $500. An additional $300 prize will be awarded to the fisherman whose submission attracts the most likes on Facebook. WorkSafeBC is also offering four new, top-of-the-line, Mustang PFDs to a crew with young workers (under 25) that participates in the contest. (See the contest page on Facebook for more information on how to participate.)

Full instruction and training required for all fishing crew members

“This contest is encouraging fishermen to do this important work independently,” Ryan says, describing how vessel masters are required by law to provide proper training to their crews, including full instruction and training around safe work practices and emergency preparedness. There also needs to be documentation of when the drills and training took place.

These and other safety requirements are detailed starting in section 24.71 of the OHS Regulation and in section 205 of the Transport Canada’s Marine Personnel Regulations.

The biggest safety risk to fishing crews is drowning, most often from falling overboard or being in a vessel that capsizes. (Read more in my post New PFD regulations improve crewmember safety on fishing vessels.)

So please spread the word about this contest! Thanks to Ryan for telling me about it. Also see Fish Safe’s list of COVID-19 information and resources.

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