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Man overboard safety drills catch several participants at Digby Wharf

DIGBY, NS – Get ready, be prepared, do some drills, and know your tools.

Those are the words of safety drill facilitator Tommy Harper who, along with executive director Amanda Dedrick, safety advisor Matthew Duffy and demo diver Brandon Fitzgerald, conducted a man overboard safety drill at Digby Wharf September 14.

These four work with the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia to promote safe practices for commercial fishermen through their program, Are You Ready.

“We work to ensure safety is a priority on the water, and want to spread that message across the province,” said Harper.


Having a plan

While he facilitated the safety drill, Harper repeatedly emphasized the need for each captain and crew to have a plan of action to respond to various crisis situations.

He also emphasized the importance of having multiple tools on board, like a life ring, a ladder, and other devices like the more recently created Pubnico loop, which combines a life ring with a net feature.

“You never what kind of situation happens. It helps people stay calm and think clearly when they’ve practiced and gone through different situations,” said Harper.

Demo diver Brandon Fitzgerald served as an actor in each scenario, jumping overboard in a plastic suit and acting out various emergencies, such as being overboard after having injured his arm.

When pulled out of the water by fishermen aboard the boat responding to the situation, everyone noted how difficult it looked.

When pulled out with the Pubnico loop, things went remarkably smoother.

“Different situations require different responses. This is why a variety of tools is so helpful,” said Harper.


Takeaways from training

Not only have 8 months passed since a fisherman died on the job, workers’ compensations are at the lowest they’ve been in decades, according to the association.

The safety drills were held aboard the Lobster Stalker, captained by Steven Grant, who was all smiles during part of the afternoon. Grant also understands how serious safety is. “Sometimes something as simple as PFD or knife… is your only chance,” he says.

This is thanks largely to an increase in safety efforts, and education, from organizations such as FSANS.

“We’re the only group in Nova Scotia. We’ve also had requests from safety associations in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, where associations like ours don’t yet exist,” said Duffy.

“This all goes to show the increase in safety culture in towns such as Digby.”

The safety drills were held about the Lobster Stalker, captained by Steven Grant.

Grant has fished since 2001 and took part in the training as a refresher for himself and his crew.

“You can never practice these drills too much,” he said.

“These things are important. Even something as simple as wearing a PFD, and carrying a knife – if you’re thrown overboard, they can be your only defence.”

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