Fishing Safety - Working Together

Based on the Safety Issues Investigation into Fishing Safety in Canada, June 2012

The PDF version of this booklet can be downloaded, printed and distributed freely.

Fishing community working together to manage risks

Real and lasting improvement in fishing safety can come only when the fishing community recognizes that safety issues are related, and it tackles them in a coordinated way, rather than separately, as has been done in the past.

At the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), we're notified about hundreds of marine accidents every year. However, it's the ones involving fishing vessels that kill the most people, an average of nearly one every month. That's why, back in 2009, the TSB began a Safety Issues Investigation into fishing safety in Canada. Our goal was to find out why the same kinds of accidents keep happening, and what can be done to make commercial fishing safer in Canada.

Our investigators met with as many people as possible: vessel owners, fishing and safety associations, government, trainers, unions, and—above all—the fishermen. Between August 2009 and September 2011, we visited 12 different cities, from Campbell River, British Columbia, to Gander, Newfoundland. Not only did we speak to representatives from all aspects of the fishing industry, we made sure to listen. We interviewed lots of people, held town hall meetings and open forums; and we collected and analyzed large amounts of information.

We found that 10 key issues affect fishing safety in Canada:

  • Stability
  • Fisheries resource management
  • Lifesaving appliances
  • The regulatory approach
  • Training
  • Safety information
  • The cost of safety
  • Fatigue
  • Fishing industry statistics
  • Safe work practices

We also found a complex relationship between these issues, with each problem affecting the others in different ways. For example, an unsecured hatch cover isn't just a careless work practice, it can also affect vessel stability. Without information about these risks, fishermen can end up in dangerous situations, which can lead to rushed decision making, which can lead to... well, you get the idea.

Over the next few pages you'll find out more about these 10 issues. You'll also be invited to think about things you could do to improve safety for you and your fellow fishermen. If the fishing community works together, it can transform current fishing practices into safer work practices—and that will save lives.


“Stability” is a vessel's ability to right itself when heeled over. Unfortunately, too many fishermen determine stability by the “feel” of how their vessel reacts in different operating conditions. But there's a lot more to stability than that.

Did you know, for example, that modifications to your vessel, or that water sloshing in your tanks, can drastically affect stability? Do you realize that freeboard is your friend? Understanding and applying basic stability principles can save your life!

If you don't know about free-surface effect, downflooding, freeboard, or if you wonder whether your vessel needs a stability assessment, there are somethings you should do. Here are a few:

  • Take a stability course
  • Talk to a Transport Canada (TC) inspector

What else can you do?

Many factors can affect your vessel's stability:

  • Icing conditions
  • Traps on deck
  • Modifications (stern extension, etc.)

What other factors apply to your vessel?

Stability considerations I could add to my work practices:

  • Check hatch-cover seals
  • Keep spare gear stowed as low as possible

What else?

Fisheries resource management

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is responsible for keeping the industry economically viable and making sure fish stocks are at healthy levels. However, the measures DFO uses to meet these objectives do not take safety into account. These measures can lead to risky behaviour by fishermen. For example, have you ever overloaded a vessel with traps on opening day to mark your fishing area? Felt pressured to make fewer trips but with larger loads? Experienced fatigue as a result of fishing with fewer or less-experienced crew members? That's why identifying and reducing safety risks needs to be a key part of fisheries resource management measures.

Sharing information is key. Talk to other fishermen about operating safely within DFO management measures.

List the dangers of racing to catch fish:

  • Fatigue (working too many hours in a day)

What else?

List any dangerous situations that can arise when operational needs conflict with DFO requirements:

  • Adding a stern extension to stay within license-length restrictions

What else?

Lifesaving appliances

Liferafts, immersion suits, personal floating devices, emergency beacons … When trouble strikes, everyone's glad to have something handy. But how can you be sure your equipment will work when you need it? Where is it stowed? If you fall overboard, how do you get back aboard? A lack of drills and equipment maintenance can be fatal. That's why all lifesaving appliances on board your vessel must be properly designed, carried, fitted, used, and maintained—because an emergency is a bad time to discover that you don't have the means to get someone out of the water, or that there aren't enough immersion suits on board.

Don't wait until it's too late. You should:

  • Check your gear
  • Buy an emergency beacon (EPIRB)
  • Take part in a safety drill
  • Find out where your immersion suit is, and try it on regularly
  • Install a reboarding device
  • Wear your personal floating device

What else can you do?

The regulatory approach

To address safety issues, many government organizations rely mainly on creating, implementing, and enforcing regulations. Despite their best efforts, however, there is sometimes confusion between federal and provincial government regulations. It's not always easy for fishermen to sort out and understand which rules apply to them and what the costs are.

How do you know if you're following all federal and provincial workers' compensation rules? What if you're hurt on the job? Do you know where you can go for more information? What workers' injury insurance do you have?
Remember that regulations alone are not enough. You should:

  • Find ways to get information on new regulations
  • Find ways to participate in consultations
  • Find out who your regional fishing leader is
  • Find out who your regional TC inspectors are

What else can you do?


Effective and practical training is one of the best ways to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to improve fishing safety. And when you regularly practice what you learn, that knowledge and skill becomes a habit—one that can keep you alive! Unfortunately, too many fishermen say no to training, because of costs, because they don't think they need it, because they think they are too old, or because of how the training is delivered.

All across the country, many organizations, associations, as well as the federal and provincial governments are offering help: Marine Emergency Duties training, stability simulators, professional competency certification, vocational training, and even hands-on, on-board training with lifesaving equipment and emergency drills.

Help is available, so go get it. You should:

  • Make sure all the fishermen you know have Marine Emergency Duties training
  • Participate in hands-on training for emergency drills

What else can you do?

Find out what kind of training is available in your region … and sign up!

Training has many benefits. Here are three. List other benefits that would also be helpful to you:

  • It will help me identify dangers
  • It prepares me to conduct an emergency drill
  • It can improve my daily work practices

Safety information

If you haven't had an accident before, you won't have one anytime soon. Right?

That may be the way most people think, but statistics—and hundreds of TSB investigations—show it's just not true. So, what's the best way to communicate safety information, best work practices, or information about fatigue? Maybe it's from newsletters, or booklets and brochures, or DVDs. Maybe it's from articles in magazines or presentations to fishermen at dockside, or in discussions with people you trust. The truth is, there is no single best way to communicate safety information, but there is one absolute rule: it's critical that the information gets to the people who need it the most.

Here are a few things you should be doing:

  • Check the inside cover of this publication for a list of safety information resources
  • Apply safety information to daily operations
  • When you learn something that makes your operation safer, share it

What else can you do to make sure information reaches the people who need it?

Here are two places where you can get safety information. List some others:

  • The Navigator magazine
  • Transport Canada Ship Safety Bulletins

The cost of safety

There's no way around it: Your time is money. And safety can cost time and money. To cut costs, some fishermen choose practices such as delaying equipment maintenance or fishing with fewer or less-experienced crew, even though this causes additional workload and can lead to fatigue. So in the long run, skimping on safety just doesn't pay off. Or, to put it bluntly, when profit comes at the expense of safety, people die. And the only way to improve things is to accept the cost of safety as a key part of fishing.

Investing in safety has many benefits, including:

  • Your family is happy to see you come home safely
  • Reduced cost of crew turnover
  • Reduced cost of insurance in some regions

List some other benefits of investing in safety:


Fatigue doesn't have to mean “so tired you fall asleep on the job.” It's more complicated than that, and often harder to spot. Fatigue is any “reduction in physical and/or mental capability as a result of physical, mental or emotional exertion.” That means fatigue can affect almost anything: your strength, speed, reaction times, coordination, balance—and especially your decision making. The risks of fatigue are regularly underestimated because: work-rest schedules are not regulated; few people report falling asleep at the wheel (even though it happens frequently!); and there is limited training and safety information about reducing the risks of fatigue.

To begin to address fatigue, you should:

  • Learn to recognize it
  • Develop a plan to deal with it (this includes scheduled rest periods)
  • Have two crew in the wheelhouse at night
  • Ask other fishermen how they deal with it

What else can you do to deal with fatigue?

Fishing industry statistics

Many different groups collect and analyze accident information. Unfortunately, this information is not coordinated, nor is it always given to fishermen in a helpful or understandable manner. Statistics on the cost of safety and fatigue, for example, are valuable because they help organizations find hazards and track safety performance. Reliable statistics also help target safety messages to the fishermen at risk and measure whether things are improving.

At the TSB, one of the things we do is analyze information about fishing vessel accidents. Contact us to learn about your reporting requirements.

Did you know that it's the law to report your accidents?

Here are some ways you can help improve the collection of statistics:

  • Report your accidents
  • Report risks on a confidential basis through the SECURITAS program

Safe work practices

How you work is affected by many factors: your training, your experience, regulations, economics, and your attitude. Safety needs to be a fundamental part of all that. Some fishermen say accidents will happen no matter what. Other fishermen say they have fished for many years without any accident, using nothing more than common sense. However, our investigations show that unsafe work practices continue to put fishermen and their vessels at risk. By establishing best practices based on safe ways of working, you can develop good habits that become routine—and that's a good way to save lives.

You should develop your best practices by:

  • Asking your crew what works to stay safe
  • Asking your crew what's dangerous
  • Getting safety information from the resources on the back page of this booklet

List some other steps that could improve your work practices:

List your own safe working practices:

  • Always batten the hatches

Anything else?

Moving forward, together

This publication outlines the 10 key issues that affect fishing vessel safety in Canada—but when it comes to solutions, no single group or government can fully address all the challenges. This is because fishermen operate in a complex environment, where all of these issues affect each other.

In some areas of the country, federal and provincial governments are already working together with others in the fishing community. These initiatives have evolved independently, and they differ in structure, scope, and representation. In many cases, they're a great start, but what's needed is an even more focused and concerted action everywhere (not just in some areas) to fully address the problems that persist in our fishing industry.

To accomplish this, the TSB believes that:

Federal and provincial governments must work with leaders in the fishing community to establish regional governance structures aimed at ensuring that fishermen can and will work safely.

By working together, we can develop and instill a safety culture within the fishing community, one where safe work practices are commonplace and challenges can be addressed in a coordinated manner—by everyone.

Make sure you do the following things:

  • Visit your safety association
  • Talk to other fishermen about safety
  • Discuss safety with your Transport Canada inspector or your province's compensation board

But that's not all. How else can you help to contribute to fishing safety?

  • Talk to your crew about safety
  • Participate in a fisheries association meeting.

What else?

Some of the resources you'll need have already been identified in this publication. Use them, because together we can build relationships, share our knowledge, pool our resources, work together—and save lives!


Transportation Safety Board of Canada
200 Promenade du Portage
Place du Centre, 4th Floor
Gatineau, QC  K1A 1K8

TSB SECURITAS (Confidential Transportation Safety Reporting Program)
Fax: 819-994-8065

Transport Canada Marine Safety
Pacific: 604-666-5300
Prairie and Northern: 1-888-463-0521
Ontario: 519-383-1826
Quebec: 514-496-2084
Atlantic: 1-800-387-4999

Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Pacific: 604-666-0384  
Central and Arctic: 519-383-1813
or 1-866-290-3731
Gulf : 506-851-6227
Quebec : 418-648-2239
Maritimes: 902-426-3550
Newfoundland and Labrador: 709-772-4423

Fish Safe

Prevention Information Line 
1-888-621-7233 or 604-273-2266  

Commission santé et sécurité au travail (CSST)

Bureau d'accréditation des pêcheurs et des aides-pêcheurs du Québec

Professional Fish Harvesters Certification Board 

Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland

Eastern Fishermen's Federation

Nova Scotia Fisheries Sector Council

Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia

Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters

PEI Fishermen's Association