Joshua Carpenter is 16 and is working this summer as the stern man on Junior McKay’s lobster boat Running Blind. He is justifiably concerned about his onboard safety, not to mention something of a frugal shopper.
On Wednesday, Carpenter stopped by the Everett R. Jodrey State Fish Pier to check out the 11 different varieties of personal flotation devices available for inspection and purchase as part of the Lifejackets for Lobstermen campaign being run by the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety.
The campaign, designed to convince more commercial lobstermen to wear personal flotation devices while fishing, has spent the summer in 40 lobstering communities up and down the New England coast.
It is in the midst of a four-day run — ending Friday — at the State Fish Pier, where so many of the city’s lobstermen tie up. Last week, the caravan spent three days at Manchester’s Masconomo Park.
Wednesday’s event was a collaborative affair promoting safety along the waterfront.
The Massachusetts Fishing Partnership and Support Services set up an informational booth. The Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association provided free monkfish soup, Sicilian baked goods from la maestra, Nina Groppo, and cold drinks.
The Life Raft + Survival Equipment company booth offered safety items and information. Skip Sheppard’s Three Lantern Marine and Fishing shop just up Parker Street had a booth and offered 15 percent discounts on inflatable devices to recreational fishermen not eligible for the campaign’s 50 percent discount.
Specific to lobstering
“The response here has been really great,” said Rebecca Weil, NCOHS research coordinator for the Lifejackets for Lobstermen campaign. “Everybody has been so positive. We sold eight devices yesterday. Today, we should sell our 400th personal flotation device since April 1.”
Sure enough, just before 3 p.m., they sold No. 400.
While the logic of making lobstering safer through personal flotation devices is unassailable, it has not always been an easy sell.
Weil said her agency’s surveys of lobstermen show fewer than 8 percent have ever worn any kind of personal flotation device while working. And most of the 8 percent admitted they only wore the devices part of the time.
But Weil said the campaign’s sojourn throughout New England leaves her optimistic the safety tide may be turning. That’s largely because the campaign has worked with manufacturers to give lobstermen an array of choices for personal flotation devices that meet specific personal preferences and accommodate specific lobstering tasks.
Carpenter was asked what convinced him to do a little safety apparel shopping Wednesday in the oppressive heat and humidity that blanketed the waterfront under the swollen and soggy skies that veiled the city.
“Well, it’s cheap,” he said, referencing the 50 percent discount being offered to commercial lobstermen and commercial fishermen with lobster bycatch permits who buy safety devices from the Lifejackets for Lobstermen campaign. “And I really wanted to try it out.”
Ultimately, Carpenter purchased a Mustang Survival inflatable belt pack — regularly $124.99 — for about $63 plus tax. The belt pack, worn around the waist, is a manual-pull device that inflates to provide 38 pounds of buoyancy.
“I like it because it’s not going to get in the way while I’m working,” said Carpenter, resplendent in his cargo shorts and Pink Floyd “Dark Side of Moon” T-shirt. “I can still take my shirt off and not mess with the straps of my skins.”
‘I wear it every time’
That was music to Weil’s ears. As was a testimonial offered Tuesday by fisherman Pete Haskell.
In April, on a previous visit to Gloucester by the Lifejackets for Lobstermen caravan, Haskell bought a Hyde Sportswear Wingman flotation device. He returned Tuesday with a friend and told Weil and her colleagues why he bought the device.
On Dec. 20, 2018, while at dock in Rockport, he fell into the water between a clam float and an adjacent wall. While he was able to pull himself back onto the dock, the experience shook him.
“I realized how fast you are in trouble,” Haskell told Weil. “A life jacket would have helped me float. It made me realize I’ve got a life jacket in the boat and I’m not wearing it. It made me realize how often and how quickly you can get into trouble. I fish in an 18-foot skiff, mostly by myself, and I wear it every time I go out now.”
Sheppard at Three Lantern said he believes the campaign to outfit more lobstermen with personal safety devices is gaining traction and expects his store will start carrying more of the devices to meet the growing demand.
“There are a couple of bibs we’re looking at, including the Stormline flotation bibs that seem to be the most popular,” Sheppard said. “We’ve actually been talking with Rebecca for about two years on this and she’s been really great about keeping us posted. Safety is a bigger and bigger concern for everybody. I think it’s awesome what they’re doing.”
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.