Life rafts mandatory for boats under 36’ 3 miles out

Commercial fishing vessels under 36 feet operating more than 3 miles from shore will be required to have a life raft as of Feb. 26, in addition to the mandatory dockside safety exam.

The rule requires approved survival craft that ensures no part of a person’s body is in the water.

It is an expensive requirement. 

Eagle Enterprises in Homer has rafts starting at about $3,000. 

After the first two years, they have to be sent in and re-packed every year for an additional cost.

If a vessel is boarded at sea and is not carrying a life raft, there is a potential fine, possibly in the thousands of dollars, but there is likely to be a grace period, according to Russell
Hazlett with the Coast Guard Sector Anchorage Commercial Fishing Safety office.

“At this point in time I (don’t think) the Coast Guard is not going to come out of the box and start fining people,” he said.

“If it’s one of the areas where they’re required to have one, they’ll probably be sent back to the dock.”

He described it as one of the “Big Eight,” eight items of serious life-saving gear that are required to continue a trip.

Whether a fine is levied is not up to the boarding officers. They write up a ticket and it gets sent to a hearing officer who decides whether to issue a fine or a warning.

“They deem what is the appropriate level of response for what is written up,” Hazlett said.

SFK Public Radio reports that Jim Paul, the Coast Guard’s fishing vessel examiner in Ketchikan, thought the change was going to impact Alaska’s fishing fleet more than anywhere else in the United States. 

“... (M)ost of the other ones when they go more than 3 miles, they drive straight out, they’re right into the ocean, so they already gotta have these rafts,” Paul said. 

Steve Ramp, a vessel examiner based in Sitka, spoke to the severity of the potential fines. 

“I dealt with a customer in Sitka last week. He had an $8,000 potential civil penalty on his letter for lack of a survival suit. I’ve never seen one for under $2,500. It’s not like mom and pop in the Whaler out jigging up a halibut and forgetting one life jacket you get a $25 ticket. Commercial mariners are treated more severely.” 

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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