It may seem obvious, but staying out of the water dramatically improves your chances of survival on a commercial fishing vessel. No one plans on an unexpected dunking while fishing, but the boat roll, lousy weather, unprotected areas on the deck, swinging pots, or a loop of gear can quickly make the unexpected a reality. Commercial fishing remains among the highest-risk industries, with fishermen's work-related fatalities 40 times higher than the national average.
According to Safety Science, an article by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) looking into the risk factors involved in commercial fishing, there have been many improvements to fishing safety since the 1980s, but the best way to prevent fatalities in the industry is to prevent the cold water immersion in the first place.
Boat stability is of particular importance. Maintaining a watertight and stable vessel is essential to prevent capsizing. Other factors in staying afloat include keeping your load below the waterline, being well-secured, and always considering how you ride in all weather conditions.
Additionally, to reduce the chances of falls overboard, you should consider the following:
Minimizing gaps in the railings.
Keeping the decks clear of slime, oil, and grease.
Using bright paint or tape on tripping or hanging hazards.
Providing a safety line across areas without railings.
Installing a safety ladder near the boat's stern.
Tying lines from the boom or at other points on the vessel for people to grab onto in rough seas.
Require a minimum of two people on deck at any time.
Boat owners and captains can drastically reduce the risk of cold-water immersion through regular vessel maintenance and keeping a close eye on the weather.
Should the preventative measures fail, and a crew member or members find themselves in the water, several things determine their chances for survival. Access to quality life-saving equipment is imperative. If crew members have adequately maintained immersion suits, life rafts, and the knowledge and skills to use the life-saving equipment, their chances of survival significantly increase. Marine safety training, such as AMSEA's Drill Conductor training, gives crew members and captains the skills and expertise to carry, maintain, and use their emergency gear.
Make it the absolute rule on your boat that no one, including you, goes on deck without a PFD, and put PLBs on all the PFDs you wear. It's cheap insurance if someone goes overboard. Increase the odds of a quick rescue wherever you can!