The new Code of Practice for Small Fishing Vessels, due to come into force in the next few months, will include new stability requirements. The MCA survey team explain the implications for owners of vessels old and new.

Since October 2017, new vessels of less than 15m have been required to have a Stability Book, in accordance with MGN281.

However, this left the majority of vessels still having no stability requirements, and over the years there have been a number of incidents where vessels and lives have been lost due to vessels capsizing. These have included the Heather Anne, Stella Maris, JMT, Nancy Glen, Solstice, Sarah Jayne and Laura Jane.

Following investigations into these incidents, the MAIB recommended that stability requirements should be introduced for both new and existing small fishing vessels.

In developing the proposals, the MCA has been aware that not all types of fishing carry the same risk of capsize, and that older vessels may struggle to comply with requirements placed on new vessels. The requirements have therefore been developed accordingly to reflect this.

The requirements applied to new vessels will be in three categories:

  • Category A methods: boom trawl, beam trawl (all gear beam-mounted, open, chain mat, etc), stern/side trawl, demersal (bottom fishing, single or multi-rig), dredges (bottom fishing for mussels, scallops, razor fish, etc), beam trawl using outrigger for towing and lifts with Scotch poles and Gilson winch, vessels with vivier tanks, vessels with catch greater than 1,000kg, and vessels with industrial bulk stowage
  • Category B methods: pair- trawling, seine-net (including purse seine), gill-net and trammel netting (bottom fishing), and potting fleets (mechanical haul)
  • Category C methods: rod fishing, pots and traps (single pot, manual haul), gill and trammel netting (not bottom fishing), line fishing, and drift netting.

Any type of fishing not mentioned would be considered Category A, but on a case by case basis could be considered for Category B or C status.

Principal fishing vessel surveyor David Fuller explained: “Any vessel that joins the register after the new code comes into force must comply with the stability requirements that apply to the highest-risk fishing method it intends to engage in.

“Anyone wanting to use a Category A method has to comply with the same requirements as fishing vessels of 15m in length and over, so they would need a Stability Information Book in accordance with MGN281.

“If you want to fish using a Category B method, you can still apply the requirements for Category A vessels, but as an alternative you could conduct an offset load test and, if single-hull, a roll test.

“Finally, if you want to fish only using a Category C method, you can comply with requirements placed on Category A or B vessels, but as an alternative, conduct a roll test and, if you are less than 6m LOA, comply with ISO 12217-3 – or, if you are 6m LOA to under 12m (registered length), be constructed in accordance with ISO 12217-1.

“The category you choose to comply with is vital. If you choose Category C, you cannot fish using Category A or B methods, and if you choose Category B, you cannot fish using Category A methods.

“If you change your method of fishing, you must get approval from the MCA and have your stability assessed according to the required standard. If you do not do so, then you are compromising the safety of yourself, your vessel and your crew. You will also be committing an offence.”

Vessels on the register before the new code comes into force must either conduct a roll test or a heel test. The owner can do these themselves – guidance is contained in the code and in MGN503. The initial test will be used as a benchmark for future tests to determine any reduction in the vessel’s stability.

Any tests conducted on new or existing vessels must be repeated under the same conditions every five years, or if changes are made to the vessel.

Whether the vessel is new or existing, decked vessels with freeboard less than 300mm will be limited in their area of operation to 20 miles from a safe haven, and in favourable weather conditions. The minimum freeboard for a decked vessel is 200mm. Vessels with less than 200mm freeboard will now be considered open vessels.

Open vessels need to keep a positive clear height at side, depending on the vessel length, and will also be limited in their area of operation to 20 miles from a safe haven and to favourable weather conditions.

A safe haven is considered to be a harbour or shelter of any kind which affords entry, subject to prudence in the weather conditions prevailing, and protection from the forces of weather, whilst favourable weather means conditions throughout a voyage or excursion in which the effects of swell, height of waves, strength of wind or visibility cause no hazard to the safety of the vessel, including handling ability. In making a judgement on favourable weather, the skipper should consider official weather forecasts for the service area of the vessel, or weather information for the area which may be available from the Coastguard or a similar coastal safety organisation.

All vessels, both new and existing, must also have a Wolfson Stability Notice posted onboard, giving information on the vessel’s loading and its effect on stability.

Vessels will have their fishing method recorded on their certificate, and any vessel, new or existing, that changes to a method in a different group, regardless of whether they are new or existing, must comply with the requirements of that group. If, for example, a vessel that undertakes potting wishes to undertake boom trawling, then regardless of whether it was a new or an existing vessel, it must comply with the requirements of Category A for new vessels.

Fishing safety team leader David Fenner said: “These changes, whilst we recognise they are significant, are needed to address the continuing loss of vessels and lives over the years, and without which more lives are likely to be lost.

“We have attempted to make the changes as proportionate as possible to the risk and vessel age. However, it is not just about the vessel – owners and skippers must also ensure the vessel is operated within the limits of its capabilities.

“We encourage fishermen, if they haven’t done so, to take the Stability Awareness Course and to read the Stability Guidance booklet available here.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here. (Photos: Geoffrey Lee)

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