Coast Guard Warns Fisherman to Check Vessel Stability

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has issued a warning to fisherman to conduct vessel stability in light of a call received on Sunday, December 16, 2012 from the fishing vessel Lady Nancy. The incident occurred in the vicinity of Westport, Washington when the Lady Nancy was reportedly taking on water.

This was the fifth trip out for the Lady Nancy this season, which had 110 Dungeness crab pots on its deck. Weather was not a significant factor. However, when the crew began to set their pots, a wave pushed some pots to the starboard side. When this happened, the starboard rail became submerged and the vessel took on water.

After taking corrective measures, the crew contacted the USCG and was escorted back to port. An examination of the vessel did not reveal any safety discrepancies or any sign of water intrusion. As recently as October, the Lady Nancy had been examined during Operation Safe Crab and passed the test.

The USCG suggests that vessel operators perform a roll period test at the dock by causing the vessel to roll back and forth from port to starboard. The purpose is to determine if the handling characteristics of the vessel have changed. Sometimes a vessel's center of gravity can change over time due to "weight creep," due to adding equipment and other modifications. Since most of the vessels in the Oregon and Washington crab fleet are smaller vessels of less than 79 feet, operators often rely upon past experience and "feel". This makes it even more important to check out vessel stability.

This causes concern for Mike Rudolph, a USCG fishing vessel safety examiner, who said they receive several close calls every year due to weight shifting, overloading or some other stability issues. Unfortunately, there are some cases which result in the loss of a vessel and/or the loss of life.

According to the USCG, vessels need to have at least six inches of freeboard. Ones with less than that have reduced reserve buoyancy, which keeps vessels afloat when they take a serious roll or take on water. There is no room for error if there is little or no reserve buoyancy. Statistics compiled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and health (NIOSH) reveal that roughly 19% of all fatalities and vessel disasters resulted from vessel instability.

If you or a family member have suffered injuries or lost loved ones performing their duties as commercial fishermen, it is important that you seek advice from a Washington attorney experienced in maritime and admiralty cases.

Seattle Maritime Attorneys John Merriam and Gordon Webb understand the dangers faced by commercial fishermen every day. Not only have we worked at sea ourselves for over 15 years, we have roughly 50 years of combined experience in handling maritime and admiralty cases.

Contact us through our website or call our toll free number at 877.800.1007 to to discuss your case. You will never owe us a fee unless we get you a recovery.

Other Resources:

Coast Guard encourages vessel stability checks prior to crabbing season
, USCG News Release, December 14, 2012

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