Fishermen adjusted to survival suits on May 5. Contributed / Fishing Partnership Support Services

Over a dozen fishermen gathered in Cundy’s Harbor last week for a two-day safety training course led by Fishing Partnership Support Services, a Massachusetts-based organization devoted to improving the health, safety and economic security of fishing families.

“Everybody on the crew needs to know how to use the fire extinguishers, needs to know how to rescue man overboard, needs to be in a survival suit,” said Dan Orchard, the group’s executive vice president. “Part of being a professional commercial fisherman is understanding your equipment and being ready in those situations.”

Arthur Howe III, Harpswell’s fire administrator and department of safety head, has spent parts of the past two years working to bring Fishing Partnership Support Services to Cundy’s Harbor to train local fishermen.

“Instead of waiting for the accent to happen,” he remembers thinking, “What if we do a little preventative work and try to teach people about how to reduce the risk while they’re out in the ocean? My interest is really in having folks educated so that they can hopefully minimize the risk if they’re out at sea and prevent an accident from happening in the first place.”

Fishermen practice handling different types of flares on May 5. Contributed / Fishing Partnership Support Services

Commercial fishing consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2020, the fishing and hunting industry was responsible for 132 fatal injuries per 100,000 full time workers, according to a BLS report.

Fishing is particularly dangerous in northern New England, according to Orchard.


“It’s sort of scary to think about how quickly things can happen down on the water,” said Monique Coombs, director of community programs for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. “I think that fishermen more than anybody know how when they’re on the water, the ocean is ultimately in control.”

After donning survival suits and jumping in the ocean, the trainees learned to climb abort a life raft on May 5. Contributed / Fishing Partnership Support Services

On Thursday, 13 participants practiced a variety of scenarios, including flooding and man overboard, Orchard said. Drills involving a survival suit, designed to protect sailors from drowning or developing hypothermia after going overboard, helped the trainees prepare for the stress of an emergency situation.

“It’s one of those things where you’d want to do that before you really need it to do it,” said Frank McDonald, who attended the training and serves as Georgetown’s Deputy Harbormaster. “The first time that you use it, you probably want to be versed.”

Participants who returned for Friday’s session, which expanded on the training’s first day, were eligible to become Alaska Marine Safety Education Association drill conductors, according to Orchard. Government regulations require certain boats to have drill conductors and to regularly run safety drills.

Yet other fishermen elected to attend the free trainings – and miss out on two days of earnings – because they understand that safety knowledge can be the difference between life and death on the water.

“The training works,” Orchard said. “We have people coming back to us and saying, ‘Because of that training, I remembered everything we practiced, and I just saved someone’s life.’ These are the stories that motivate fishermen to come to the trainings and motivate us to provide the opportunity.”

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