Lifejackets for Lobstermen Project works to get PFDs on every fisherman

Tue, 01/12/2021 - 5:45pm

“I wear a lifejacket for my own safety, of course, and most importantly, I wear it for my family and loved ones. Fishing is important, and so is coming back safely.” Captain Stefanie Alley, Islesford 

From 2000-2016, the Centers for Disease Control charted 204 commercial fishing fatalities from falls overboard. None of the fishermen recovered were wearing a lifejacket, and 108 of the fishermen’s bodies were never found, according to a report of the Lifejacket Project, which was launched to identify solutions and increase fishermen’s interest in wearing lifejackets.

In its recently published, 20-page summary report, the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety in Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing chronicles stories from the Lifejackets for Lobstermen Project and provides examples of the fishing community’s interest and engagement with the project.

As Captain John Brigante of Bucks Harbor, said, “I put the PFD on before getting into the skiff and keep it on until back on land. Accidents can happen anytime and anywhere.”

Captain Brent Crowley of Jonesport, said of his new PFDs, “It can save my life or my sternman’s”.

The report chronicles stories of close-calls and personal loss shared by fishermen and families. For example, Deborah Damon describes losing several family members at sea: “I have two sons and two of my brothers who lobster here in Maine… I lost my grandfather, my brother, fiancé, and my husband all to the sea. So it would mean a lot if I could get these [lifejackets]”.

During the project, fishermen worked with the Northeast Center to identify good designs and eliminate challenges to use.

Project coordinators also reached out to manufacturers, retailers, safety trainers and other researchers, as well as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, and the Old4New campaign in New Zealand, to create the “Lifejacket for Lobstermen” vans.

The vans went along the coast to bring fishermen-selected devices dockside at a Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing  discounted rate, so fishermen could try them on, compare them side by side, and try out new lifejackets/PFDs they may not have been familiar with.

Stefanie Alley said: “I couldn’t find an inflatable lifejacket at the store—too hard to choose one. The van offered an opportunity to look at the different styles, and get questions answered.”

During the vans’ 157 days dockside, fishermen bought 1087 lifejackets and PFDs. The NEC now plans to transition the project to Fishing Partnership Support Services (FPSS) who collaborated on the project. FPSS is integrating the lifejacket van into their safety trainings and expanding to all fisheries and ages. Contact Fishing Partnership Support Services at 617-928-3443 or

Want to learn more about the project and outcomes? Download the Summary Report at or request a hard copy by calling the Northeast Center at 607-547-6023 or emailing

The Lifejacket Project was a collaboration with Fishing Partnership Support Services, Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, McMillan Offshore Survival Training and the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association


The Northeast Center is funded through the Centers for Disease Control to address prominent occupational safety and health hazards in agricultural, forestry and fishing communities throughout the Northeast. In addition to conducting research and developing safety programs, the Center offers safety training, health screening and counseling services to agricultural, forestry and fisheries workers.