South Shields Marine School has played a key part in turning the tide against poor safety at sea which experts say is causing needless fishermen deaths.
Its specialist maritime survival centre has hosted three days of new-style instruction to emphasize to trawlermen the danger of setting sail without a life jacket.
The unnecessary and now illegal risk-taking contributed to some of the 10 man overboard fatalities among Britain’s fishing fleet in 2021 – a worrying recent yearly high.
Participants in the eye-opening classroom and pool-based survival sessions included those from North Shields, Hartlepool, Whitby and Bridlington ports.
To highlight how unlikely survival is without a life jacket, they entered the 4m-deep storm-configured pool in only their usual at-sea protective boots and waterproofs.
Most lasted barely a minute before the weight of water began pulling them under, compelling them to grab life floats placed by safety lifeguards swimming close by.
They then repeated the exercise in lifejacket and safety clothing, a switch which illuminated the difference between being prepared for all eventualities – or not.
The sessions were at the marine school’s Marine and Offshore Safety Training Centre (MOST) in South Shields, and delivered by training company Seafish, in conjunction with the RNLI.
Michael Speers, MOST’s Head of School, said: “We are so committed to supporting this important training that we have provided our fantastic facilities without charge.
“Safety among fishermen has traditionally been poorly regulated, which has contributed to deaths which could likely have been avoided had better procedures been in place.
“It is very important to the fishing industry that safety is tightened and that those working in it have a very clear understanding of how their lives can be saved by the simple act of wearing a life jacket.
“Our first-class facilities are perfect for very powerfully showing fishermen just how much better their chances of survival are if they wear a life jacket while at sea.”
Davey Price, 52, skipper of Whitby-based Wakeful, and who has fished the North Sea since the age of 15, praised the Man Overboard training course.
He said: “I ensure my crew always wear their life jackets while at sea, and this course has really opened my eyes to just how important that is.
“You never think it’s going to happen to you, but you are always aware it might. This course has brought home the likely outcome should that ever happen.
“I knew being in the survival pool without a life jacket and in regular boat clothing was not going to be easy, and it certainly wasn’t.
“For a few moments I thought I was ok, and then I wasn’t, and if you were at sea in colder waters and without the safety team around you, it would be even worse.
“I would 100 per cent recommend this course to anyone thinking of going to sea without taking safety precautions, it’s a must.”
Katie Hooper, training adviser with Grimsby-based Seafish, said the Maritime and Coastguard Agency-funded (MCA) programme was potentially an industry game changer.
She added: “Fishermen have been largely left to their own devices, no-one has been watching them even though it is the law to wear a lifejacket.
“The MCA is now cracking down hard on those who do not take this simple precaution and skippers can be fined or even have their vessels impounded.
“I think attitudes among the country’s 1,200 trawlermen are changing, and this training programme is playing a critical role.
“Feedback is usually very positive, with many participants telling how shocked they at realising how short a time they are in the water before they start struggling.
“Even those who are fit will last little more than a minute if they do not have life jacket.
“I hear from them the reasons why they don’t like wearing one, or won’t wear one, and it’s just not reason enough.
“Some feel it gets in their way and can snag, but that’s really no excuse. For those who do perish, their families also suffer.
“Fishermen tend to view their work as being dangerous and so carry on regardless, but the number of man overboard deaths in on the increase and such loss would be unacceptable in any other industry.
“The course is important to showing them the very real dangers they face and how that risk can be minimised.”
Participants in the one-day, non-mandatory course are paid £200 for loss of earnings.
More information is available by visiting https://seafishonlinetraining.co.uk