Fishermen urged to wear lifejackets in new safety campaign

David Massey recalls importance of PFD after his vessel capsized off the Wicklow coast

Whelk fisherman David Massey knew he was wearing no ordinary lifejacket when he hit the water unexpectedly about 11km off the coast of Wicklow in April last year.

His personal flotation device (PFD) was fitted with an emergency beacon which would inform the rescue authorities of his precise location, his name, his address and his next-of-kin.

“Still, I thought we were gone,” the 42-year-old, originally from Co Limerick, said.

Mr Massey was one of three crew on the MFV Lavicca, which capsized off the Wicklow coast on April 15th, 2015.


Mr Massey said it had been a "flat calm . . . a beautiful day", when vessel owner Gerry Copeland decided to move several strings of pots.

As the vessel jolted while preparing to shoot the second string, Mr Massey shouted a warning to his skipper in the wheelhouse.

“Gerry had reached for the VHF radio, but didn’t have time to make the call before we went over,” he said.

After the vessel capsized fellow crewman James Byrne pulled Mr Massey from the water up on to the upturned hull, but there was no sign of their skipper for several minutes.

“Gerry managed to find an air pocket, took a gulp of air and dived out of the door and up the side,” Mr Massey said.

“And then as soon as James asked where the liferaft was, it popped up too. The emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) in the wheelhouse floated free also.”

The MFV Lavicca sank within several minutes, and Mr Massey knew then it was a case of “pure survival”.

His skipper was bailing out their liferaft with his wellington boot when they heard the sound of an Irish Coast Guard rescue helicopter.

“As Gerry was being winched up, he could see the RNLI Wicklow lifeboat steaming towards us,” he said.

“We were on our way to Tallaght hospital within half an hour.”

Deaths at sea

Mr Massey knows he and his colleagues are among the lucky ones, given that 53 fishermen have lost their lives at sea over the past 10 years.

In spite of mandatory safety training, more than half of fishermen do not wear a lifejacket or PFD at sea, according to research by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

This is despite the fact that PFDs are provided free to participants in training courses that cost €155 for crew in vessels under 15m in length and €190 per crew in vessels in excess of 15m.

BIM has published the research as part of a new safety drive.

The research also reveals that 36 per cent of the more than 3,500 fishermen surveyed know a colleague who died at sea.

Some 29 of the 53 fatalities over the last decade involved crew on vessels under 15m in length, while the worst year for fatalities was 2007, when 12 fishermen died.

BIM chief executive Tara McCarthy said that fishing was approximately 13 times more dangerous than working in construction, and 36 times more dangerous than general employment.

She has urged fishermen to complete their safety training and wear their flotation device - “if not for themselves, for their families and loved ones”.

BIM’s Live to Tell the Tale safety campaign runs over the next four weeks.

Safety training courses are available all year through BIM's National Fisheries Colleges in Greencastle, Co Donegal, and Castletownbere, Co Cork, and onboard BIM's mobile coastal training units.

Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney has endorsed the campaign.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times