Safety for fishermen was the focus of a public presentation Wednesday by Carl Harris, director of facilities at the National Research Council’s Institute for Ocean Technology in St. John’s.
The presentation, “Fishing Vessel Safety: Changing the Criteria,” followed an informal meeting of fishermen, boat owners, industry representatives and researchers, at the Institute for Ocean Technology, on Memorial University of Newfoundland’s St. John’s campus.
The public talk was presented by the Marine Technology Society, Newfoundland and Labrador.
In it, Harris advocated a performance-based approached for fishing vessel design and construction to address what he described as existing stability and efficiency concerns.
The naval architect and researcher began with a brief history of design, noting the rules on fishing vessels were originally developed for larger boats. He said they were sized down from there. “There’s a limit beyond which you can’t scale them down,” he said of the prescribed numbers.
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Harris added the current thinking is often to begin a boat’s design with two lines that mark out its length and then fill in the rest. That type of work has led to the addition of various vessel add-ons post-construction, such as: “flopper-stoppers” (poles extending out from each side of the vessel), “bow bulbs” and “anti-roll tanks.”
He suggested considering the purpose of a ship, before its length, would change the need for many post-construction add-ons. The point, he said, would be to build safer, more efficient boats.
Harris did not suggest throwing out existing vessel regulations, but said there is more work to be done in making vessels safer.
The human factors
Harris also encouraged the testing of vessels, onboard equipment and personnel in settings relevant to what they face in real life.
He then slid into the area of cognitive engineering, focused on human interaction with a system or piece of technology.
He described a test completed with eight or 10 options for onboard ship radios (Global Maritime Distress Safety System, GMDSS) locally, with seafarers being tossed around in a simulator and then challenged to signal distress. A separation between regulation and day-to-day reality was immediately made clear.
“We turned out the lights and said, ‘Guys, she’s sinking. Get your call out,’” Harris said.
“There were some radios that nobody could use.”
While one-push panic buttons were useful, he said radios with multi-level digital menus — requiring fishermen to hit “little” buttons “with fingers that big around” (he pressed together his thumb and first finger to form a circle and held it up) — caused problems.
“Some of the radios have large menus. So if you make a mistake, you’ve got to go back, and that’s how you run out of time.”
It was one example of how something with the right parts, properly produced and certified, might still not be “fit for purpose.”
Harris went on to reference other research that has been completed in the province in the areas of employee training and occupational health and safety.
A question and answer session with the 15 or so people in attendance closed out the event, sparking comments on everything from capsize fatalities to nearing changes to federal regulations on survival suits.