SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Fall arrived last week, and the deadline for mandatory dockside inspections for fishing boats is coming right behind it.
Fishing boats that fish more than 3 miles offshore, a group that includes a significant portion of the Maine lobster fleet, must complete a Coast Guard safety inspection no later than Thursday, Oct. 15. The requirement also applies to fishing boats that carry more than 16 on board, uncommon now in Maine, wherever they operate.
Boats that passed inspections after Jan. 1, 2013, don’t have to meet the October deadline. They are exempt for five years from the date on which Coast Guard inspectors issued a sticker indicating that the boat had passed a voluntary safety examination. In a letter sent to all commercial fishing vessel owners and operators in August, the Coast Guard told them to arrange to have their boats re-inspected to ensure that they meet the latest safety requirements.
Owners and operators of boats boarded by the Coast Guard and found not in full compliance with the latest regulations may be subject to a civil fine. The Coast Guard may also terminate the vessel’s voyage.
The importance of having required safety gear on board was driven home recently when two fishermen were rescued about 50 miles east of Portland after their fishing boat sank.
According to a statement from the 1st Coast Guard District in Boston, radio watchstanders received an emergency position indicator beacon (EPIRB) signal around 3:30 p.m. from the fishing boat Jeanne C. Unable to reach the boat by radio, the Coast Guard sent two cutters, a 47-foot motor lifeboat from Boothbay Harbor and a Cape Cod-based helicopter out to search. About an hour later, the crew of the 47-footer spotted a life raft with the two-person crew of the Jeanne C. on board. They were taken safely to Boothbay Harbor.
“Their boat sunk right out from underneath them,” said Lt. Samantha Leon, the command duty officer at the 1st District Command Center. “They had the proper safety equipment, like the life raft, onboard and were able to get in quickly. They helped save their own lives.”
Although the list of required safety equipment required on board commercial fishing vessels is extensive, it is also fairly straightforward. The exception is the requirement to carry “survival craft,” essentially inflatable life-rafts, which varies depending on the length of the vessel, where it fishes and whether the vessel is federally documented or state-registered.
The survival craft rules do not apply to boats shorter than 36 feet long, documented or state registered, with fewer than three people on board providing they fish within 12 miles of shore. Boats longer than 36 feet that stay within the 12-mile limit and carry three or fewer crew may carry a less elaborate “buoyant apparatus” instead of an inflatable raft.
The specifications for an approved buoyant apparatus are being tightened too.
While many new examples of an approved buoyant apparatus are inflatable devices that are less elaborate than life rafts, many older pieces of equipment are rigid uncovered rafts built of foam or some other material that floats.
Beginning in late February, every buoyant apparatus carried in lieu of a survival craft must ensure “that no part of an individual is immersed in water.” After Feb. 26, the old-fashioned rectangular float with a netting floor will no longer be approved.
Fishermen seeking to schedule an inspection should contact the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Northern New England at 767-0320 or the commercial vessel safety inspectors for eastern Maine: from Waldoboro to Ellsworth, Brian Smith, 664-3931; from Ellsworth to Eastport, Garry Moores, 838-4440.