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Crab fishing vessel capsizes and one crew member drowns, Oregon

Oregon Case Report: 16OR007
Release Date: June, 2020


On January 26, 2016, three crab fishermen (Captain and two crewmembers) were returning from retrieving crab pots left the week prior by a vessel that sank after setting them, while crossing the same bar off the coast of southern Oregon (see OR-FACE report 2016-06). This 42.3-foot steel hulled vessel experienced mechanical problems approximately 1 mile away from the harbor. It was raining and the seas were rough, with reported 6 to 8-foot swells on the north jetty and 10 to 12-foot swells on the south jetty and winds about 5 mph. As the Captain attempted to maneuver back to the bay, he heard a loud noise, and lost propulsion which meant maneuverability was also lost. He ordered the crewmembers to don immersion suits and called the US Coast Guard (USCG) to request immediate help. The Captain donned a PFD while in the cabin. While waiting for the USCG at the entrance to the bay, also known as the bar, several large waves hit the vessel. An estimated 16-foot-high wave/breaker struck the vessel, rolling it onto its side. The two crewmembers were thrown overboard as it rolled. The Captain exited through a broken window, entering the sea from the bow. The vessel flooded in part from the open aft cabin door, turned into the waves and quickly sank. The USCG arrived 20 minutes after the mayday call was received and found and retrieved the Captain and one crewmember. The second crewmember was found unresponsive and face down in the water approximately 10 minutes later. Resuscitation efforts were started and he was transported to the hospital by boat, then helicopter. At 10 p.m. he was pronounced dead due to trauma and drowning.

OR-FACE received the initial notification of the incident from its ongoing surveillance of programmed Google alerts. This investigation report is based on review of the US Coast Guard Marine Information for Safety and law Enforcement (MISLE) Incident Investigation Report (2016) and NIOSH commercial fishing safety research and recommendations. A phone discussion was also completed 10/30/19 with Mr. Greg Merten, USCG Civilian Search And Rescue (SAR) Planner, Columbia River Division.


  • Confirm major vessel damage is thoroughly inspected and repaired prior to sailing, especially prior to sailing in rough seas and inclement weather.
  • Establish and follow maintenance and inspection intervals for critical components
  • Before deciding to fish and venture to sea, Captains must consider weather conditions and vessel suitability.
  • If the decision is made to cross the bar in rough seas the Captain should request and obtain a USCG escort.
  • Secure all potential water in filtration points in rough seas, including doors, windows, and hatch covers.
  • Captains should work together to request regional safety training and encourage crew members to participate in available safety training.

Crab fishing vessel capsizes and one crew member drowns, Oregon [PDF 2.4 MB]