It takes more than luck

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With frigid temperatures strong winds and fast-moving currents, lives at sea can be lost or saved in a matter of minutes. Perhaps no one understands this more than the fisherman.

Fishermen live their lives on the water and understand the necessity to be vigilant at all times and anticipate the sea’s unforeseen actions. The responsibility for the professional mariner’s safety begins before even leaving the dock. Two recent cases, both including New England fishing crews, paint the picture of the correct course of action to take when thrown into an emergency.

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Fisherman practice using red signal flares during the fishing vessel safety training seminar. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by SN Sabrina Elgammal

It was just another day of fishing for the West Kingston, R.I.- based crew of the vessel Elizabeth Helen. As they hauled in their catch, just as they always do, their boat suddenly began taking on water. The water overtook the vessel and it soon sank three miles northeast of Block Island.

Using that knowledge professional fishermen possess, they acted quickly, broadcasting on their marine radio their situation. After calling out for help they activated their emergency positioning indicating radio beacon before abandoning their vessel and embarking their life raft. As Coast Guard rescue assistance arrived on scene, the fishermen shot off their red flares to signal their position.

In the end, all of Elizabeth Helen’s crew was brought home safely, due in part to their radio, emergency beacon, life raft and flares.

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The two men aboard the Elizabeth Helen abandoned the vessel in this liferaft after it began to take on water and were rescued by U.S. Coast Guard Station Point Judith rescue crews. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Station Point Judith.

“This case is a great example of all the right things happening at once,” said Lt. Bryan Swintek, command center chief of Sector Southeast New England. “It guaranteed we could get our assets on-scene to the correct location in under one hour. EPIRBs and their constant and automatic updates take the search out of search and rescue.”

The very next day, an all too similar situation arose when the fishing vessel Vincenzo began taking on water. The fishermen acted swiftly, donning their survival suits and broadcasting their distress over VHF channel 16, before entering their life raft.

They brought their vessel’s EPIRB with them, in case the Coast Guard was unable to locate them. The Coast Guard sent out a radio broadcast to alert vessels and boats in the area of the situation, and a fishing vessel close by responded to the call. Their fellow mariners were able to pull all three fishermen out of the water before the Coast Guard arrived on scene.

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The fishing vessel Vincenzo's position is shown after its crew members made a distress call 12 miles south of Shinnecock, Long Island, N.Y. A Station Shinnecock rescue crew rescued the Vincenzo's crew aboard and transported them safely to the station. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

“It wasn’t luck that brought these fishermen home alive,” said Lt. Joe Klinker, 1st District public affairs officer. “It was their decision to prepare for the worst.”

Professional fishermen and mariners are well versed in safety at sea; it is what they do for a living. They have a deep respect for the sea and know the realities of what can happen if they and their crews are in danger.  You too can be prepared while at sea. To learn more about taking the proper safety precautions prior to setting sail, whether you are an experienced fisherman or recreational boater, visit the Coast Guard’s boating safety resource center.

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