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Don't Let Your Survival Skills Get Rusty

Commercial fishermen practicing the donning of immersion suits during an emergency procedures drill.

Would you like to improve your performance in an emergency at sea by nearly 30%? Well, who wouldn't? Conducting monthly drills of your emergency procedures will give you and your crew that enhanced performance. This isn't hard to understand. We've all had the experience of feeling a bit rusty when performing a familiar task. Monthly drills will keep your emergency procedures fresh in your mind and build "muscle memory" so that you don't need to spend time thinking about what to do or how to do it.

About ten years ago AMSEA and the University of Washington studied how long commercial fishermen retain their survival skills after a Fishing Vessel Drill Conductor workshop. That study was the subject of the article below, first published in our newsletter, Marine Safety Update, in Spring of 2008. Check out the findings. It underscores the value of regularly drilling your boat's emergency procedures. Don't let your survival skills getting rusty!

Retention of Learned Survival Skills Studied

In 2007, AMSEA worked with the University of Washington’s Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety & Health (PNASH) department to study how long skills taught in AMSEA Drill Conductor (DC) classes are retained. A survey also looked at how and if safety drills are conducted on commercial fishing vessels.

Two groups were chosen to participate. Each group had at least 30 men and women and included fishermen from vessels 32 to 58 feet in size. Participants were primarily from Sitka and Seattle. Salmon trollers and longliners were predominately represented, although many participants had fished in other fisheries and in various parts of Alaska.

One group consisted of commercial fishermen previously trained as Drill Conductors. The second group consisted of fishermen not previously trained. The latter group was provided training early in 2007 in just four of the skills taught in DC courses, including exercises with immersion suits, radio usage and cold-water survival skills. They were tested both one month and three months after their training.

A few of the preliminary findings:

Rate of Skills Decay Survival skills performance decreased from 100% to 86% in just one month. Skill loss, however, remains fairly unchanged out to three months. This highlights the need to do monthly drills. Fishermen who were trained years ago scored only 71%. This would indicate that drills not conducted on a regular basis contribute to the decay of skills.

Obstacles to Drills Being Conducted The biggest obstacle, reported by 37.5% of previously untrained fishermen and 25.8% of those previously trained, was “Master or captain doesn’t enforce it”. “Crew too busy” was reported as a major problem by 37.5% of untrained but only 6.5% of trained fishermen. This perhaps demonstrates that fishermen trained to conduct drills realize more than untrained crew that emergency drills do not actually take up that much of crews’ time.

Effect of Age on Skills Retention There was a moderate negative correlation between age of subject and retention. As age increases, retention decreases a bit.

Frequency of Conducted Emergency Drills Fishermen who had been previously trained as Drill Conductors had a higher probability of participating in emergency drills at least once in the season over those that had not been previously trained (71.1% versus 40.7%). However, only two people from each group reported conducting the drills monthly as required.

It appears that fishermen who complete Drill Conductor training are more likely to conduct drills at some point in the season and with more frequency than untrained fishermen, but it made no difference in compliance with conducting the drills monthly as required by the USCG.

Refresher Training for Drill Conductors 96.7% of both groups interviewed felt that refresher training would be useful for Drill Conductors. 90.5% of all fishermen interviewed recommended that refresher training take place from one to five years from date of initial training.

Skills Knowledge Without DC Training The average pre-training test score of fishermen who had not been previously trained was only 64%.

This is the first time the retention of skills taught in Drill Conductor classes has been studied. The findings bear out the importance of conducting thorough monthly drills, as well as the importance of Drill Conductor refresher training. Thanks to all who took part and spoke so openly about the issues regarding emergency drills.

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