I was sitting in my office last month during the first Nor’easter of the season when I received a call from the owner of a fleet of coastal lobster smacks. A smack boat transports live lobster as a cargo and also carries bait, supplies and fuel to fishermen on offshore islands. They are not fishing vessels, but rather coastal cargo vessels.
This Nor’easter was supposed to last three days with gale force winds. Early in the storm, seas were running 15 feet with the wave tops being blown off and very heavy rain. My client and I listened to transmissions between a lobster boat, which happened to be a customer of the lobster smack owner, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The vessel was having big problems. All its windows were blown out from the seas, she was taking on water, and the crew was in peril of going down with the vessel. The Coast Guard was at least 45 minutes away, but there was another vessel approaching to help.
This is chilling stuff to listen to and my imagination went wild, picturing the scene and wondering how the rescue vessel could get close enough in heavy seas to get the crew safely aboard without imperiling itself. It takes true seamanship to help in situations like this. I was in fear of what I might hear next. I was also hopeful that the vessel attempting the rescue was heavily built and had an experienced mariner at the helm.
So, what’s my point? It’s very simple. We need to practice safety all the time. Is your vessel totally up to standards so that neither you nor your crew are ever placed in unnecessary peril? Do you have the right safety gear, survival suits, life preservers, life rafts, EPIRBs, and a waterproof handheld VHF? Do you account for the weather before every trip and do you have a float plan? Do your station bills have all of the correct and up-to- date information on them? Do you practice emergency procedures?
It’s way too late to think about emergencies after huge seas blow out all your windows. Think safety!