Safety first for 'Deadliest Catch'
October 28, 2009
Written by Chris Landry
Capt. Keith Colburn is the first to
point out the dangers of commercial crab fishing on the Bering Sea.
But he says it's the dangers of his job that make him so vigilant
That's why the Coast Guard has chosen
Colburn, featured on the Discovery Channel cable TV show "Deadliest
Catch," as the national spokesman for its Boat Responsibly
initiative, which encourages boaters to wear life jackets.
"Everybody looks at the 'Deadliest
Catch' like it's the most insane job on the planet, the most
dangerous job on the planet," says Colburn. "It's kind of ironic to
have someone in that profession talking about life jackets, boating
responsibly and safety at sea, but it makes sense, because if we
don't think about those things when we leave town, we're not coming
VIDEO: BEYOND PFDs
-- Colburn talks about bringing the Wizard crew through an encounter
with a 40-foot wave, and offers more safety tips for recreational
stellar safety record made him a natural choice, according to Adm. James
A. Watson, Coast Guard director of prevention policy. "Keith is an
experienced and well-respected seaman who puts a premium on safety for
his boat and crew," he says.
Colburn, who is 46, owns the 156-foot
steel vessel Wizard, one of four ships featured in the television
program. Colburn runs his crew through hours of safety drills. Ship
systems are checked and double-checked. And every crewmember wears a
life jacket on deck - no matter how calm the seas.
The crabbing season runs from October
through April, and the Wizard returns to Alaska 10 times during the
season to offload its catch. Colburn bought the vessel from John
Jorgensen in 2005. Built for the Navy in 1945, she has a beam of 30
feet, a gross displacement of 500 tons and a draft of 13 feet.
"The hull is all lap-welded instead of
butt-welded," says Colburn. "They don't make vessels like this
anymore. It's not cost-effective to build a boat they way they built
Jorgensen, who bought the ship in 1978,
taught Colburn about the importance of running the boat safely and
taking no chances. For example, Jorgensen would often stop fishing
in heavy weather while other skippers continued to fish, potentially
endangering their vessels and crews. He also stressed the value of
proper preparation and vessel maintenance.
"The most important safety lessons are
what you do prior to even leaving the dock," says Colburn. "We go
through pretty much everything we possibly can prior to setting
sail. We have different types of drills. They could be anything from
man-overboard to how to use a marine VHF or single-sideband radio
during an emergency situation. The most important safety lesson I've
learned is: Be well-prepared."
And that lesson is equally important for
recreational boaters. "Always take yourself out of the equation.
Make sure [your crew is] prepared for an emergency without you," he
says. "That's one thing I think recreational boaters fall victim to
too many times. The operator of the boat could be the one who gets
injured." (Watch the above video for more of Colburn's tips.)
In his public appearances and service
announcements for the Coast Guard, Colburn promotes PFD wear and
cites Coast Guard statistics to reinforce the safety lesson. For
example, there were 709 boating fatalities in 2008, according to the
agency's Recreational Boating Statistics. More than two-thirds of
the victims drowned and, of those, more than 90 percent weren't
wearing a PFD.
"Even if it's flat calm and it's a
beautiful day and you're an Olympic swimmer, that doesn't mean if
you fall in the water you're going to survive without some type of
flotation," Colburn says.
The crew of the Wizard, which includes
two cameramen, wear either inflatable vest-style PFDs or jackets
with foam flotation while on deck. Both are comfortable and provide
excellent buoyancy, he says.
"The technology has improved
dramatically to where today you can wear a PFD and not even know
that it's on," says Colburn. "My guys ... feel naked without their
Colburn is also a firm advocate of
EPIRBs. "Even if you file a float plan and you come up missing, it's
a big body of water," he says. "If you deviate from your plan and
you don't have communication, you're on your own. You're basically a
little speck in the sea, waiting to be bailed out."