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Engineering Controls Database

Vessel Downflooding Prevention – Hatch and Door Monitoring System and Multi-level Flood Sensor

In 2008, over 8 billion pounds of seafood was harvested in the United States earning over $4.4 billion. There are approximately 115,000 harvesters in the United States using a variety of different fishing gear and vessels [NOAA 2010]. Species that contributed the most to this revenue include shrimp, Pacific salmon, pollock and lobster.

Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Many commercial fishing operations are characterized by hazardous working conditions, strenuous labor, long work hours and harsh weather. During 1992-2008, an annual average of 58 deaths occurred (128 deaths per 100,000 workers), compared with an average of 5,894 deaths (4 per 100,000 workers) among all U.S. workers [DOL 2010].
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) maintains the Commercial Fishing Incident Database (CFID), a surveillance system for workplace fatalities in the commercial fishing industry in the United States. A review of data from the CFID indicates that vessel sinking accounted for 52% of commercial fishing fatalities from 2000-2008.

The sinking of the F/V Alaska Ranger and F/V Katmai in 2008 where 12 men perished highlights the need for a hatch and door monitoring system. In both cases water flooded across watertight compartments through open hatches rapidly decreasing stability and affecting control of the vessel. Fishermen need a system that will provide an immediate and continuous status of watertight openings to prevent downflooding or cross-compartment flooding of their vessel. In addition to the danger of downflooding from open watertight doors and hatches, vessels can flood via a hull breach or leak around the rudder or propeller in a compartment known as the lazarette. Both the sinking of the F/V Katmai and F/V Alaska Ranger were accelerated due to flooding in the vessel’s lazarette.
NIOSH is developing a hatch and door monitoring system for commercial fishing vessels that is inexpensive, easy to install, robust, and able to be retrofitted on existing vessels. Inputs from the sensors are displayed on a “greenboard” located on the vessel’s bridge. Two prototypes are currently being tested aboard commercial fishing vessels in Alaska: F/V Lilli Ann, a freezer longliner, and F/V Gladiator, a catcher trawler. Researchers are working with boat crews and the U.S. Coast Guard to determine the best sensor types and mounting locations for various hatches commonly found on commercial fishing vessels.

This system can also be integrated with the NIOSH Multi-Level Flood Sensor prototype to provide further information to the captain and crew about the condition of the vessel and its watertight integrity. The Multi-Level Flood Sensor system is described in a separate NIOSH Data Base summary report.

NOTE: The information in this Data Base summary report is taken primarily from the NIOSH document referenced below.
Figure 1. F/V Gladiator at a shipyard in Ballard, WA

Figure 1. F/V Gladiator at a shipyard in Ballard, WA

Figure 2. F/V Lilli Ann at Fishermen’s terminal Seattle, WA

Figure 2. F/V Lilli Ann at Fishermen’s terminal Seattle, WA

Figure 3. “Greenboard” on F/V Gladiator

Figure 3. “Greenboard” on F/V Gladiator
DOL [2010]. Injuries, illnesses, and fatalities: Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI)--current and revised data. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Available at Accessed September 29, 2011.

NOAA [2010]. Fisheries Economics of the United States, 2008. US Department of Commerce. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. National Marine Fisheries Service. Available at Accessed September 29, 2011.

NIOSH. Vessel downflooding prevention: Hatch & door monitoring system. Commercial Fishing Safety and Health Research. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Spokane Research Laboratory, Alaska Pacific Regional Office.
commercial fishing
Surveys conducted with crew members from the test vessels indicate that the system works well, but finding good locations for sensors and keeping them properly aligned can be a challenge. Researchers continue to improve mounting designs and sensor choices. Initial discussions have been made with hatch and door manufacturers, encouraging them to incorporate sensor mounting locations within their hatch frame designs.

Crews from both test vessels have indicated that an additional use of the technology may be to monitor vessel fire doors to streamline the activation of the engine room fire suppression system in case of a fire. Currently a crew member must physically check each door before activating the system; using a remote monitoring system would remove them from harm’s way.