Safety issues on single operator fishing boats have been highlighted by the release of a joint report on MOB accidents involving two such vessels.
The single-handed skippers of FV Discovery and FV Breadwinner were lost overboard in October 2010 and January 2011. Risks were not adequately accounted for in either case.
While there were differences in the circumstances that led to each of these fatal
accidents, both occurred as a direct result of the working practices that were being
There have been 13 recorded fatalities on UK creel fishing vessels since the beginning of 2007, 9 of which were a result of either falling or being dragged overboard with the gear.
Of these 9 fatalities, 7 were single-handed fishing operations, with no one to witness the accident or provide assistance.
During the same period there were 10 single-handed fatalities on various other types of UK fishing vessels, most of which were man overboard (MOB) accidents where the casualties were not wearing any type of PFD, lifeline, PLB or remote engine shut-off. Generally, the boats were either found unmanned at sea, or on the shore as a result of them continuing to make way through the sea unmanned.
Discovery and Breadwinner were both being operated by lone skippers and there was no support or backup when the fishing operations started to go wrong. Without additional safety precautions, there was little to prevent either man being carried overboard, and nothing that could be done to recover them or raise the alarm.
To prevent this deadly situation, lone fishermen should consider the way they operate, at three levels:
• Firstly, the working arrangements should be such that there are physical and/ or procedural barriers to prevent lone skippers becoming entangled in fishing gear.
• Secondly, lone skippers must be able to identify how the risk increases when fishing operations start to go wrong. Safe working practices are needed when dealing with common problems, such as creels that become tangled together during shooting operations. If all else fails, a lone skipper must think of a way of stabilising the situation and reducing the risk while help is sought.
• Finally, if the worst should happen, a lone skipper must be able to prevent further injury and summon help. Automatic machinery shut-down devices and personal protective equipment should help reduce the risk of injury in accidents on board the vessel. A lifeline and a sharp knife could prevent a lone skipper being carried overboard. However, if the lone skipper does end up in the sea, additional buoyancy and a means of summoning help are essential for survival.
These issues are likely to be far less clear cut for a skipper assessing his or her own boat. Although some written guidance is available, it is unlikely to be as effective as an impartial view from a third party. This is particularly relevant to the process of risk assessments. Despite being a mandatory requirement, risk assessments do not need to be written down for smaller fishing vessels, and their conclusions are never challenged. The consequence of this is that operational safety is left to the operator, who may not necessarily appreciate that a risk exists, or may not know how an
identified risk can best be mitigated.
From 2005 to 2007, third party assistance with hazard identification and control was available in Scotland from the MCA’s FVSO, and subsequently until March 2008 from Seafish staff. This service ceased due to financial constraints, but the evidence from these accidents shows there is a particular need to provide single-handed fishermen with credible, effective advice on safe working practices.