PUBLISHED: 4:15 PM on Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Safety training saves lives of Alaska's fishermen
KODIAK, Alaska - Of all the fishing seasons in Alaska, those taking place in winter pose the greatest hazard while also offering some of the biggest rewards. Although crews head out with hopes of returning with a lucrative catch, they must contend with forces beyond their control.

What is within their control is how prepared they will be should an unforeseen emergency arise.

To assist mariners in preparing for the inherent dangers of their job the Coast Guard and Alaska Marine Safety Education Association provide free educational instruction on how to survive a maritime accident.

"AMSEA was started about 22 years ago and it was really a grass roots program to start enhancing safety in the commercial fisheries," Steven Campbell, AMSEA Kodiak area training coordinator explained. "People were sick and tired of not seeing their friends come home."

The program slowly gained interest from the fishing community after debuting in 1990. Campbell began instructing in 1999 and since then has seen a big change in the number of people doing the training.

"People are getting more familiar with the equipment and procedures for using them," said Campbell. "We show people exactly what they need to do, with what gear, in any given emergency."

Campbell stressed that knowing the equipment and having a plan are vital. Knowing what to do in an emergency will ultimately alleviate panic, which time and time again results in fatalities, he said.

"These drills show you the harsh reality of what can happen out there," said Kodiak based commercial fisherman Bob Bowhay. "It's not just enough to tell a (new) guy this is what happens and this is what you do. He needs to put an immersion suit on, jump over board and get back on the boat."

The AMSEA program provides free hands on training to mariners through several different courses. These courses include Marine Safety Instructor Training, on board drills, water wise instructor and outdoor survival educator's workshops.

Courses are also customized to meet the needs of boaters and the boating practices of a specific area or industry.

The AMSEA program will go where ever fishermen need them. They travel all over Alaska to train fishermen. Campbell noted that the AMSEA program is also reaching out to recreational boating in Alaska.

"The recreational side of boating has had more fatality than the commercial side and that's shocking," said Campbell. "So we're trying to nose our way into the recreational area and bring peoples awareness up about safety."

History has shown that deaths associated with commercial fishing have decreased since the introduction of the AMSEA program. Commercial deaths have been reduced from an averaging of 38 lives a year to about 11 for the past 5 years in Alaska, according to AMSEA statistics.

"This training is all dead serious but we try to make it fun for people to do as well." Campbell said. "There are no tests involved with the AMSEA course. If you demonstrate you can do the skills required we will sign it off and it's free!"

Individuals who would like to learn more about AMSEA and its programs can visit or call 1-888-508-3287.