Lifejackets campaign launched amid safety fears for fishermen

A campaign has been launched to save the lives of Yorkshire Coast fishermen amid fears that many of them are wearing lifejackets which may not stand the test of an emergency at sea.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is holding a series of events for Yorkshire crews next week, including testing of life preservers to ensure they measure up to the task of keeping their owners alive.

Members of the charity's Fishing Safety team will be in Bridlington on Tuesday January 25 and in Whitby on Thursday January 27 to provide fishermen with information and advice on lifejackets, cold water shock and the RNLI's MOB Guardian.

The fact that fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the UK has been underlined by a series of maritime disasters off the Yorkshire Coast.

One of the most recent tragedies was the sinking of the Bridlington fishing vessel The Flourish in an accident with a bulk carrier in October 2007 in which fisherman John Collinson was lost.

The dangers of not wearing lifejackets were highlighted when the pleasure boat Last Call sank outside Whitby Harbour in November 2007. Amateur fishermen Andrew Carrick, his brother John and Jill Russell died from the cold.

In the 1990s more lives were lost in disasters such as the sinking of the freighter Rema off Whitby and loss of the Scarborough fishing vessel Heritage.

Frankie Horne, RNLI Fishing Safety Co-ordinator, said around 20 commercial fishermen die every year around the coast of the UK.

He added: "The RNLI wants to make fishermen more aware of the dangers they face, and to show them that by making a few small changes to the way they operate, they can substantially improve their own safety.

"We appreciate that things are currently pretty tough for commercial fishermen but we hope that they will come to one of our events in Bridlington or Whitby, have a chat and hopefully learn something which could potentially save their life."

Both sessions in Whitby and Bridlington will include a lifejacket clinic, where fishermen can take their own lifejackets for a health check by one of the RNLI's Fishing Safety team.

Mr Horne said lifejackets needed regular maintenance and fishermen would be shown how to carry out their own checks to make sure their lifejackets are fit for purpose.

The clinics will be followed by presentations about cold water shock and the RNLI's MOB Guardian system.

Cold water shock is a potential killer for anyone who falls overboard around the UK coast, particularly if they are not wearing a lifejacket, Two out of the three people who died in the Last Call tragedy were not.

The RNLI says that many people underestimate the dangers. "Sudden immersion in cold water can cause increased blood pressure, a rise in heart rate and risk of gasping in water. Anyone falling in without a lifejacket will struggle to stay afloat and find it difficult to avoid inhaling water," a spokesman said.

The MOB Guardian system, which has been developed by the RNLI for fishermen, gives an early alert to an emergency, helps reduce search time and provides rescuers with an up-to-date position for the man overboard or troubled vessel.

It means search and rescue agencies, including RNLI volunteer crews on lifeboats, do not have to start a search with little or no information about the location of the casualty. If a single-handed fisherman falls over the side of their vessel, the system will automatically alert search and rescue agencies and can also shut down a boat's engine remotely.

The Fishing Safety events on the 25th will take place at Rags Restaurant, South Pier, Bridlington. The event on the 27th will be at Whitby RNLI lifeboat station 11am to 4pm. For more information contact Mr Horne on 07624 483466.