Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Survival Through Education: National Marine Fisheries Service observer safety training.

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by Petty Officer 3rd Class Colin White, public affairs specialist, U.S. Coast Guard Thirteenth District.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) observers work to collect at-sea scientific data required for the conservation and management of marine resources within the United States’ exclusive economic zone.

The U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA share a mutual interest in fishing vessel safety and National Marine Fisheries Service observer safety. As part of the NMFS observer program, it is mandatory that all observed fishing vessels pass a Coast Guard commercial fishing vessel safety examination and that all observers participate in marine safety training demonstrating competency in emergency response skills.

The Training
Observers are trained over a three-week period. For two weeks they learn how to collect catch and by-catch data from U.S. commercial fishing and processing vessels. In the final week, they are introduced to required vessel safety equipment, the use of personal survival equipment, and survival techniques in the water.

The last day of survival training combines all knowledge and skills the observers-in-training have been taught into a practical in-water exercise. Observers must don their immersion survival suits in less than 60 seconds, demonstrate the proper water entry method, inflate and enter a life raft from the water, display the heat escape lessening posture, initiate methods of arrangement to better signal possible rescuers, and enter a mock Coast Guard helicopter rescue basket.

Putting the Training into Practice
Aboard the Alaska Ranger.
The Alaska Ranger flooded and sank 180 miles west of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on March 23, 2008. The crew and NMFS observers abandoned ship at night into frigid waters, facing 15-foot seas and 30-knot winds. Fortunately, an NMFS observer aboard, Jayson Vallee, activated a personal locator beacon, providing the Coast Guard critical search and rescue information. He attributed his success and ultimate survival to his training.

Full article is available at

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