Safety Precautions Urged During Dungeness Crab Season

Motor Lifeboat U.S. Coast Guard
A 47-foot Motor Lifeboat from U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment prepares to enter the surf zone off the Washington Coast. USCG photo by Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier.

Coast Guard officials are urging harvesters to take safety precautions in hazardous bar crossings during the commercial Dungeness crab season that’s now underway.

Investigators with the Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Portland said they have responded to over 200 marine casualties so far this year, with many of these incidents involving commercial fishing vessels.

When unsafe conditions exist at the bar, the Coast Guard prohibits the passage of recreational and uninspected passenger vessels based on their size.

When conditions exceed operating parameters of Coast Guard search and rescue resources, the bar is closed and no vessels allowed to cross unless specifically authorized by the Captain of the Port.

Bar closures are announced via broadcast notice to mariners on VHF-FM channel 16 and 22A. Monitoring cameras and associated websites prior to setting out to sea may provide mariners with additional information at certain locations.

Commercial fishermen must notify the Coast Guard on those channels prior crossing a restricted bar between sunset and sunrise, to provide their vessel name, position, number of people aboard, destination and any vessel limitations. After crossing, they must report back whether it was a safe transit.

Life jackets or immersion suits must be readily available for all on board in any enclosed spaces of vessels when crossing bar with restrictions in place. Life jackets are also required whenever a vessel is under tow or while being escorted across the bar by the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard warns that failure to comply with these requirements may result in a maximum civil penalty of $25,000.

When crossing the bar or channel, vessels may not run with ‘work-lights’ engaged. Vessels found in violation of this regulation face a maximum fine of $2,164. Also, all vessels must maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by “all available means,” meaning effective use of available instruments and equipment, in addition to use of sight and hearing. Vessels violating this regulation face a maximum fine of $15,173.

Lt. Carl Eschler, chief of the investigations division at MSU Portland, observed that the pandemic has had a negative impact on many fishermen financially.

“The announcement of the start of the 2021-2022 commercial Dungeness season opening Dec. 1 without delay for the first time in seven years will mean a brighter Christmas for many,” Eschler said. “Fresh crab may be on the table for Christmas for the first time in years, and the Coast Guard wants everyone to be able to enjoy it.”