Marine safety drills to take place this month in Naknek and Dillingham

As hordes of skippers and crew from Homer and elsewhere prepare to descend on Bristol Bay for what is expected to be another blockbuster salmon season, the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association is holding four drill instructor courses which are mandatory for Coast Guard and insurance purposes.

People trained as drill instructors are required to hold a variety of safety drills aboard their vessel every 30 days if they operate beyond 3 miles from shore.

Two of the classes will be held in Naknek on June 3 and 17, and two in Dillingham on June 8 and 9.

The classes are 12 hours over the course of one day, and include cold-water survival skills; EPIRBs, signal flares, and mayday calls; man-overboard recovery; firefighting; flooding and damage control; dewatering pumps, immersion suits and PFDs, helicopter rescue, life rafts, abandon ship procedures, and emergency drills.

AMSEA’s Fishing Vessel Drill Conductor workshops meet the U.S. Coast Guard training requirements for drill conductors on commercial fishing vessels, and cost is free to commercial fishermen and $225, including tax, for all others.

The Naknek classes will include an in-water portion in immersion suits, also known as survival suits, with life rafts, but the Dillingham classes don’t have a pool. However, everyone is expected to be able to don a survival suit in 60 seconds.

Amanda Green, training and course coordinator for AMSEA, said they are looking at options for being able to put class attendants in Dillingham in the water, but it is a work in progress.

Being able to get in the water in a survival suit and then into a life raft is an important part of the training, Green said.

“A lot of people enjoy, and get the biggest, I think, ‘aha’ moment out of that,” Green said. She added that there’s a disconnect right now between what the law states and regulations can enforce but she recommends following a three- to five-year refresher schedule of renewing the training, “just for the sake of muscle memory,” and also keeping up with technology. “When we’re talking about survival equipment, if you’ve taken (the class) even 10 years ago, it’s good to get an update on that.”

Green explained the disconnect between law and regulation, but said it has more to do with refresher training.

“The (code to federal register), what the Coast Guard can actually enforce, they haven’t been updated to reflect the requirement for refresher training. The card you get (as drill instructor) is good until the CFR is updated,” which she said, isn’t imminent.

However, she said that if there is some kind of vessel loss or fatality on a boat that the Coast Guard is investigating, they do take into consideration and do research into who on the vessel has been trained, and how often, and whether or not they are keeping up on refresher training.

“The way I understand it is they do take that into account when they’re assessing liability,” Green said.

Anna Borland-Ivy has taught the AMSEA drill instructor class for nearly 30 years, and agreed with Green that the in-water portion is very important, as well as taking refresher courses. Borland-Ivy taught a two-day class in Homer recently that was completely full with 18 attendees, and said it was mostly young mariners, which she found encouraging, and said it should be a requirement to take the training at least every five years, much like getting a CPR card.

“That would make safety better,” she said. “I’ve had people in the class for their second or third time, and a light bulb goes off, and they say ‘Oh, this class isn’t just to teach me to use my safety equipment, this class is to teach me how to run drills, with my crew, in a realistic and effective manner so I can comply with the federal statute that says I have to run drills every 30 days,’ that’s what this class is for. The first time people take it, they don’t get there.”

Anyone interested in taking the course can register online at, or call 907-747-3287.

Cristy Fry can be reached at Seawatch is gone fishing for the summer.