Features Public Health Research

The safest catch

Public health researchers cast a safety net for commercial fishermen in Oregon

Commercial fishing is a dangerous and challenging occupation. The risk of injury is always present.

Although the U.S. Coast Guard requires one or more crewmembers to be first-aid and CPR trained, most first-aid courses assume there will be quick access to an ambulance and hospital.

The more likely scenario — fishermen will need to use their training during a long, physically demanding day in rough seas.

With this in mind, a team from Oregon State University developed Fishermen First Aid and Safety Training (FFAST). The course customizes existing wilderness first aid training to better prepare fishermen to prevent and treat injuries encountered at sea.

The training considers small crews, common injuries, vessel environments, cold water, rough seas and delayed emergency response times.

FFAST is an outcome of a three-year grant from the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health, led by College of Public Health and Human Sciences Assistant Professor Laurel Kincl.

“Before putting the FFAST together, we asked 426 commercial fishermen about their injuries and what they do to stay healthy,” Laurel says. “Fishermen emphasized that drills and preparation were important for staying safe. We used this information to make FFAST as relevant as possible for commercial fishing.”

CPHHS Professor Viktor Bovbjerg says preventing injuries is always the first priority; however, in an inherently dangerous job injuries will still occur. “Having crew members who are prepared to take care of one another until help arrives can reduce injury severity, which in turn can help ensure crew members a quicker and fuller recovery, and ability to keep on fishing after an injury.”

Project Manager Amelia Vaughan says course topics are specific to fishing situations, such as the challenges of safely moving patients onboard rolling vessels in tight quarters. “The course prepares fishermen to respond to common fishing injuries and illnesses ranging from sea sickness or chapped hands, all the way to life-threatening injuries such as crush injuries or hypothermia.”

Thanks to a grant from the Oregon State Marine Studies Initiative, this is the third year that Oregon State is hosting FFAST on the Oregon coast. This year’s course will take place in Port Orford, Oregon, on October 30-31. The cost is $50 per person.

“So far, almost 50 commercial fishermen have taken the FFAST course,” Amelia says. “A fisherman from Astoria said this is the first training he’s ever done, outside of his military days, that prepared him for situations he might actually encounter while fishing.”

Other project collaborators include Oregon Sea Grant Extension faculty Kaety Jacobson and Amanda Gladics; Oregon State’s Marine Studies Initiative, Servco Pacific Insurance and the Newport Fishermen’s Wives.

For more information about FFAST and to register for the training, contact Amelia Vaughan at or 541-737-1940. You can also find more information about the FFAST course and other fishing safety resources at