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Lifejackets for Lobstermen

Survival of the Fitted

From 2000-2016, the Centers for Disease Control charted 204 commercial fishing fatalities from falling overboard. None of the fishermen recovered were wearing a lifejacket, and 108 of the fishermen’s bodies were never found. For Northeast lobstermen, falls overboard are the most frequent cause of death. The Lifejackets for Lobstermen Project was developed to try to understand the lifejacket dilemma and to hopefully identify solutions so that fishermen would wear them on the job.

U.S. Falls Overboard, 2000-2016
Commercial Fishermen Died
6 in 10 Events Were Not Witnessed
Were wearing a lifejacket
Were Not Found


View Our Lifejackets Product Guide

Charting the Course

Fishermen Spoke. We Listened.

On the phone, in person and through the mail, the project team started by surveying over 550 Northeast fishermen.

Lifejacket Trials

A total of 181 fishermen volunteered to wear a randomly assigned PFD model for a month. Models were also brought to industry events for fishermen to try on and provide feedback.

Road Trip

Two cargo vans, carrying 11 models of lifejackets and other PFDs, stopped at ports along the Maine and Massachusetts coastline over the course of seven months. Commercial lobstermen were able to buy lifejackets from the vans at a one-time 50% discount.

Final Numbers

In all, the vans spent 157 days dockside, visiting 61 ports, travelling 10K miles, and, most importantly, distributing a total of 1087 lifejackets and PFDs to lobstermen.

Project Resources

Read the Final Project Summary Report

What was in the Vans?

Learn about the PFDs selected to be stocked on the van. Details include  buoyancy rating, flotation method and what fishermen liked and disliked about the different models.

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Which Products Sold Most?

Find out which lifejackets, PFDs and flotation devices were most popular with the lobstermen who tried out the models on the docks and made their pick.

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Finding the Right PFD For You

This decision chart, developed by the Northeast Center team, maps out the five top things to consider when choosing a PFD.

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Poster & Media Campaigns

In focus groups, fishermen described family, generational work, good crew, and the desire to stay alive as crucial concepts to highlight when promoting the use of PFDs. These were developed into a poster and media campaign.

View Posters

1-10-1 Cold Water Survival

With a lifejacket on, a person has approximately:

1 minute to control their gasp reflex

10 minutes of meaningful movement toward rescue, and

1 hour of survival prior to hypothermia.

In cold water without a lifejacket, a person can survive for just minutes—no matter how strong a swimmer.

View Infographic

Survival Systems Infographic

Staying aboard, staying afloat, being found, and re-boarding/recovery. These are core pieces to surviving falls overboard. Each piece works collectively to ensure the safety and survival of fishermen.

View Infographic

What Fishermen are Saying

The Best Lifejacket
is the One You Wear.

For a Northeast lobsterman, a lifejacket needs to fit with the work of the boat. Spending up to 12 hours a day hauling traps and moving gear in all forms of weather requires that a lifejacket be workable and comfortable. It can’t be so bulky that the fisherman can’t reach into traps or work on an engine. It can’t add to the already high risk of gear entanglement with straps and buckles or extra pockets.

It needs to allow the fisherman to move fully, quickly, and adeptly through the work of the boat.

Hardliners say that a lifejacket doesn’t need to be comfortable. It just needs to save your life. Fishermen, however, work hard to make a living. Many fishermen have past injuries that make it painful to wear something while working for many hours.

Bibs Test Drive Goes Viral

Colin MacDonald gives the Stormline flotation bibs a try by hopping off the stern of his boat into frigid Maine waters. The video was viewed by more than 150,000 people worldwide on our Facebook page  @NECenterCommercialFishing

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A Close Call for Father and Son

“Almost lost my old man overboard last week. He went in, and I wasn’t sure we were gonna get him back. He had his muck boots on. They kept floating up and his head kept going under. It was scary. I gaffed him by the hood to get him back in.”

Pete Seiders
Van Seiders at Lifejacket Van in PFD of his choice

“If it wasn’t for my son, I wouldn’t be here.”

Van Seiders

Passing On the Van Keys

The Northeast Center is excited to have passed the van keys onto Fishing Partnership Support Services, whose mission is to provide safety trainings, health insurance, and other support for commercial fishermen. Fishing Partnership’s Lifejacket Van will be featured at its safety trainings throughout the Northeast and made available to commercial fishermen of all ages and fisheries. To schedule a training with Fishing Partnerships or to find out about their plans for the Lifejacket Van, call 617-928-3443.

Click Here for the FPSS Lifejacket Rebate Form

“Fishing Partnership Support Services is thrilled to continue the groundbreaking work of NEC. As part of our free courses in safety and survival at sea, we will continue this approach and help fishermen find the lifejacket that they will wear.”

J.J. Bartlett
President, FPSS