Commercial fishermen operating more than three miles from shore have until today to get a mandatory dockside safety exam from the United States Coast Guard.
Boats that are out of the water or tied up for the winter will need one before resuming operation next season.
The dockside exams have been voluntary since the 1990s, but the latest Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill created the mandatory requirement.
However, the program is set up so that boats who have had a dockside inspection since Jan. 1, 2013, will not need one until 2018. After that, the inspections are good for five years.
“Basically they back-dated it, gave it a little grace period if they’ve already been participating in the program,” according to Coast Guard MST 1 Kelly Smith, based in Homer.
A successful dockside exam produces a sticker that goes on the side of the wheelhouse.
Having a sticker does not preclude a boat from getting boarded while fishing, Smith said.
“They’re always also doing fisheries checks, so they may be spot checking fish catches, nets, things like that,” he said.
What the decal does is shorten the safety portion of the boarding, limiting the check to items like survival suits, life rafts, if required, and other things that expire before five years such as flares.
The Coast Guard can and does board vessels fishing within three miles of shore, but those boats are not required to have the safety decal.
However, “there’s always safety gear that’s required to be on the boat,” Smith said.
Currently if vessels without safety stickers are boarded outside of three miles, it results in a warning, and they are expected to contact their local Coast Guard office to arrange for a dockside exam. If they are boarded a second time without a sticker they will likely incur a fine, but will not get sent back to port for that reason alone.
The current lead time in Homer to arrange for a dockside inspection is about a week, presumably because so many crab boats are getting ready to head to the Bering Sea.
Smith recommended visiting www.fishsafe.info, which has all the required safety information and also has a handy checklist generator which users can customize to their vessel.
To arrange for a dockside boarding in Homer, call 235-3292.
Cristy Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.