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PFDs for Commercial Fishermen?


Falling off the boat remains the leading cause of work-related deaths among commercial fishermen. Still, wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) while working has always been a tough sell. Many fishermen consider wearing a PFD on-deck to be uncomfortable at best and in the worst case, a potential hazard. Yet, we know that wearing a PFD greatly improves the odds of surviving a fall overboard. How can we get to “yes” with commercial fishermen on wearing PFDs? The graph above shows that too many fishermen are willing to take their chances when it comes to falling overboard.

Maybe this will help. In a 2012 study by NIOSH, 200 commercial fishermen from four different gear groups evaluated six modern PFDs for a month, while working on deck. They reported on PFDs that were comfortable, easy to wear, and available for sale. NIOSH has created a web page where you can read about each gear group’s PFD preferences.

At AMSEA, we always say that the best PFD is the one you’ll wear. NIOSH provides the following recommendations for all commercial fishermen:

“There are many models and styles of PFDs available today that are designed for commercial fishing. When choosing a PFD, try on a variety of styles and models to find the one that works best for the type of work to be done. The best PFD is the one that is worn on deck!”

“All vessel operators should have a PFD policy for their crew. Examples of PFD policies include:

  • PFDs must be worn 100% of the time on deck

  • PFDs must be worn when climbing the stack

  • PFDs must be worn when crossing a river bar

  • PFDs must be worn when the weather turns bad

“Whatever your policy is, write it down, post it, and make the crew aware of it.”

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