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Fisheries Monitoring & Analysis (FMA) Division

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Oct-Nov-Dec 2008
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Refresher Safety Training for Returning Observers

observers practicing in-water safety techniques
Observers practice in-water safety techniques in Lake Washington, Seattle, as FMA staff and others watch.  Photo by FMA staff.

life raft demonstration
FMA staff member Jason Stern demonstrates the features of a life raft to observers.  In the background, observers prepare for the in-water safety drills.  Photo by FMA staff.

observers practice entering the watering
FMA staff members Kristy Lewis and Dan Decker monitor as observers practice entering the water while wearing an immersion suit.  Photo by FMA staff.

In response to recent at-sea tragedies, the Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division (FMA) implemented an updated refresher safety training session for prior North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program (NPGOP) observers returning to work at sea.

The safety training builds on the cold-water refresher training implemented in 2006 (see April-June 2006 Quarterly Report) and provides additional review of actual at-sea emergencies and several mock drill exercises to help observers improve their preparedness for an at-sea emergency. Lessons learned from the sinking of the fishing vessels Alaska Ranger in March 2008 and Katmai in October 2008 were included in the training materials.

As described in the April-June 2008 Quarterly Report, all NPGOP observer trainees complete 20 hours of safety training during their initial 3-week training class. During recurrent training for experienced observers, safety issues are discussed, and all observers perform in-water safety drills at least once every 3 years.

Returning observers are required to attend an annual 4-day briefing class prior to their first deployment each calendar year. These classes provide observers with a review of sampling procedures and any new information they need to complete their duties in the field. In addition to the standard review of safety procedures and periodic in-water safety drills, the 2009 4-day briefing classes will include more comprehensive presentations and mock drills to better prepare observers for emergencies.

The dangers of exposure to cold water are reviewed through a video presentation and class discussion. This provides observers with an understanding of the effects of cold water exposure and methods to increase survivability and possibility of rescue should they find themselves involved in an in-water emergency either directly or indirectly through assisting a victim.

Immersion suits (also known as exposure suits) can prolong survival time in the cold waters of the North Pacific. Due to the importance of properly donning an immersion suit prior to entering the water, observers participate in drills to don their immersion suits quickly under a variety of scenarios.

Training includes discussion of safety considerations when embarking or disembarking a vessel. The dangers of this common activity are often overlooked. A slip or fall can result in injury or death, and observers are instructed to take action to minimize the possibility of such injury.

Rules governing when an observer must refuse to deploy on a vessel due to safety considerations are reviewed. Observers must receive a safety orientation and are required to complete a Vessel Safety Checklist before deploying on each vessel. The checklist provides documentation of the presence and condition of all safety equipment required by the U. S. Coast Guard onboard the vessel.

All required safety equipment must be onboard, in working order, and those items with an inspection or expiration date must show a current date. The observer must refuse to leave the dock or board the vessel if the observer does not receive a safety orientation or specific criteria on the checklist are not met.

The classes also focus on emergency response procedures typical of vessels fishing in Alaska. Observers participate in reviewing the details that should be found on a vessel station bill (the vessel's emergency plan) and then split into groups to create a station bill for the subsequent drills. An abandon ship drill is also part of the classroom session with each observer playing a role. Groups perform drills one at a time and with differing scenarios while others watch the drill so that all can participate in follow-up discussions reviewing what was learned in each drill.

Following performing drills in the classroom setting, the observers head to the water for more realistic drills. The first drill is an in-water drill. This is a complete abandon ship drill, starting with the observers located dockside or poolside, and includes sounding the alarm, sending a MAYDAY, mustering at an assigned station, donning an immersion suit, entering the water while wearing an immersion suit, swimming to and entering a life raft, and exiting the raft. The in-water exercise also includes familiarization with the confined space experienced inside of a life raft.

Observers also participate in a Man Overboard rescue simulation. In this exercise they practice tossing a life ring to within "arm's reach" of a buoy in the water but avoiding hitting the buoy, while the observers keep track of the buoy visually and point to the buoy as would be done at sea to keep the person in the water in view.

These presentations and drills address situations and lessons learned from actual at-sea emergencies. At the end of the drills, the class discusses the activities to review what was done well and areas needing improvement. Through these efforts, FMA assists observers in being well prepared for life at sea.

By Allison Barns


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