David Colmer, RNLI fishing safety coordinator for the South, invited the region’s fishermen to take part in the exercise.
A total of 12 fisherman from the Shoreham area were given a brief by Tony Brown, the technical manager from Mullion PDF, along with managing director Jane Goodwin, and Paul Houghtin, from Mullion PDF’s in-house team.
Tony said: “We are doing this project with the RNLI because in Ireland the wearing of a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is mandatory and there is talk of the same happening in the UK during the next couple of years.”
McMurdo Marine product line specialist Ryan Van der Linde from Belgium also flew over to take part in the exercise.
The aim of the event was to educate the fisherman on the use of PFDs and Personal Location Beacons (PLBs), as it important that the PLB is attached permanently to the actual lifejacket.
Tony said: “We are here today to show all parties how to do it correctly. There is now funding available for PFDs and this can be sourced from the RNLI Fisheries Team. This is the next stage following our work with Seafish in providing free PFDs.”
The exercise was initially due to involve the Lee-on-Solent AW189 helicopter, but due to the inclement weather the day before and severe storms during the night, its crew had been exceptionally busy, and so that component of the event was cancelled. Shoreham lifeboat had also had two shouts during the previous 12 hours, including one that lasted three hours at night.
Steve Smith, the coxswain, said: “It was the last thing we would have expected weather wise at this time of year. However, safety at sea is what it is all about, and all the crew wanted this exercise to continue after so much planning.”
On a recent visit to the SAR Helicopter unit at Lydd in Kent by John Periam and Geoff Lee, it was mentioned by the duty flight commander Alan Dale that they were surprised how many fishermen did not wear floatation devices. This was also endorsed by members of the Maritime Coastguard (MCA) Survey Team when it came to inspecting vessels and checking on-board safety equipment. It only needs a slight accident or a cluttered deck to cause a ‘man overboard’ situation. It is important also to remember many in-shore fishermen work alone - wearing a PFD and PLB does not restrict movement, and helps with any emergency.
Prior to the lifeboat launching, David Colmer detailed what was involved: “It was nice to see such a positive response from the fishermen, with some turning up at short notice. We discussed the wearing of PFDs in detail, which resulted in a lengthy discussion regarding their pros and cons. Fishermen need to remember that fishing vessels have a habit of sinking fast. They need to be aware of cold water shock and, if not wearing them, should have ease of access to all safety gear including the liferaft.”
The fisherman’s views varied - some felt with several crew on board that lifejackets often got in the way and if anything happened others would be at hand. David put his case over well in educating them all.
The Shoreham all weather Tamar lifeboat (ALB) ‘Enid Collett’ launched, supported by the in shore lifeboat (ILB) ‘Joan Woodland’, into a rolling sea and proceeded a mile off Shoreham to commence the planned exercise.
David said: “The support of the lifeboat crew after such a long series of services during the past few hours was exemplary. We started by showing them the A Frame double strop and pulley system. Lifeboatman Chris Hubbard fitted the Mullion Compact 150 PFD with PLB attached then entered the water where inflation took place instantly. Its size when fitted and speed of inflation surprised many. Recovery by the A Frame double strop pulley system was a real eye opener to all those on board. It also showed how easy it would be to attach the same to a working fishing vessel. This was followed by a self recovery onto the inshore lifeboat sponson. The rolling sea gave a good example of how difficult this could be at times.”
Next was the deployment of the RFD Seasava plus six man liferaft. Two Shoreham crew members, Ed Leckie and Chris Hubbard, did a brilliant job before it was then closed down and those on board experienced 1O minutes inside it.
Simon Tugwell, second coxswain, said: “We also used the on board Y Boat to show how this works in a situation far out to see where the ALB does not have the support of the ILB. There is no doubt that the fishermen were somewhat surprised to see the range of equipment at hand and the experience and speed of the crew in deploying this equipment.”
This was endorsed by Steve Smith, the lifeboat’s coxswain, who said: “Nothing surprises us now when we get a shout. We train on a regular basis and are able to work in most situations. However; it would make our lives a lot easier if those going to sea put PFDs on. The latest designs are compact, and made to give all on board freedom of movement which is what fishermen need. The RNLI Fisheries team work hard and seeing their efforts today supported by the manufacturers must prove to those attending that common sense must prevail when going to sea, even on the calmest of days.”
Stewart Carpenter, a Shoreham fisherman, said: “There is no doubt that doing a real life at sea exercise showed me just how important the wearing of the right safety equipment is. I did not realise what was involved. To witness the Lifeboat crews working and using the gear on board showed just how professional they are. To retrieve a casualty from the water is not easy and there is no doubt that the wearing a PFD helps – the new ones are so compact! The A Frame strop and pulley impressed me a lot - it was wonderful to see in operation. I will certainly reassess my own safety gear.”
Peter Huxtable MBE, retired Shoreham Harbour lifeboat coxswain and current station lifeboat operations manager, said: “I wish I had the opportunity to see what the fishermen had seen today when I was fishing many years ago from Shoreham.
“We all think we are safe when it comes to driving a car, crossing a road, boarding an aircraft, riding a bike. However, going to sea on a fishing vessel (or any other boat) there should be one fast rule: ‘Wear a Lifejacket’. Having an empty armchair next to a coal fire to look at every night at home is not worth it!”
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