They spent the first two years canvassing the lobster docks of New England, delivering a message of safety and soliciting opinions from fishermen on which personal safety devices would suit them best as they plied their trade upon the water.

The folks from the Lifejackets for Lobstermen campaign had a challenging mission: spread the word to more than 500 lobstermen of the life-saving benefits of wearing personal flotation devices while fishing.

And they weren't sure how they'd be received by the lobstering community that largely has resisted wearing lifejackets and other safety devices because they were uncomfortable, impeded their work or were regarded as too expensive.

"When we first hit the road, we weren't sure what to expect," said Amanda Roome, a fieldwork research coordinator with the Lifejackets for Lobstermen program. "From Day One, the lobstermen were very open to talking with us and trying on the different styles of lifejackets."

It turns out they were received pretty well.

In 2019, three years into the project, the Lifejackets for Lobstermen researchers from the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety took their act on the road.

They loaded up two vans with various models and styles of personal flotation devices, from inflatable beltpacks to flotation bib pants, that best met the lobstermen's expressed needs and preferences.

Beginning in April 2019, the vans traveled about 10,000 miles throughout coastal New England, revisiting 61 separate ports, including Gloucester, Manchester and Rockport.

When the odyssey ended in November 2019, Lifejackets for Lobstermen had sold 1,087 lifejackets and other personal safety devices.

The most popular choice among lobstermen was the Stormline Flotation Bibs — which accounted for 544 sales, or almost exactly half of all those devices purchased.

It was followed by the Mustang Elite 28 inflatable PFD (103 sold) and the Kent Rogue II flotation fishing vest (99 sold).

The one-time 50% discount offered by Lifejackets for Lobstermen to commercial lobstermen and commercial fishermen with lobster bycatch permits helped push sales.

But the organizers also had the numbers on their side.

They had data that showed that, from 2000 to 2016, 204 U.S. commercial fishermen died after going overboard. Almost 60% of the incidents went unwitnessed and 108 were never found.

Of those 204 commercial fishermen who died, none wore a lifejacket or personal flotation device.

They pointed out that the on-the-job death rate for commercial fishermen is 31 times higher than any other industry.

And preliminary data from 2016 to 2019 show that 26% of all man-overboard fatalities in the Northeast involved lobstermen.

The Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety, a not-for-profit that specializes in issues related to commercial fishing, farming and logging, said it plans to continue the Lifejackets for Lobstermen program.

It has also joined forces with fishing stakeholders, such as the Fishing Partnership Support Services, to help include the benefits of personal flotation devices in training programs.

"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,” said J.J. Bartlett, president of the Fishing Partnership Support Services.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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