Crab Fishing Vessel Capsizes and Drowns Three Crew Members, Oregon

Oregon Case Report: 16OR006
Release Date: March 2020


On January 19, 2016, a commercial fishing vessel left a harbor on Oregon’s coast with four crew members to place crab pots. The vessel’s Captain proceeded out, despite being warned about poor weather conditions and heavy seas. He was escorted across the bar by a Coast Guard motor lifeboat. That afternoon while crabbing, the vessel’s external lights failed and the Captain decided to return to port. While returning across the bar, a wave washed over the stern, capsizing the vessel. It rolled and broke apart on the rock jetty. A rescue locator beacon (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or EPIRB) on the vessel activated, and was noted by the local Coast Guard station. Search and rescue operations began shortly after. The Captain was thrown from the capsized vessel, swam clear of the debris, and was pushed by waves onto the jetty. He found someone to take him to the Coast Guard station where he reported the incident. He refused medical treatment and the required drug and alcohol testing, and left the station. One crew member was recovered later that evening, deceased. A second crew member was found approximately three weeks later, also deceased. The third missing crew member was not found but was presumed deceased.

Key contributing factors identified in this investigation include:

  • Crossing the bar to fish during especially adverse weather conditions.
  • Generator failure resulting in the Captain’s decision to return to port.
  • Failure to request U. S. Coast Guard escort for the return bar crossing.
  • None of the crew members were wearing Personal Floatation Devices (PFD).
  • Failure to secure the cabin door in heavy seas.
  • Inadequate training (drills) for possible “abandon ship” and “man overboard” scenarios.

Oregon Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (OR-FACE) investigators concluded that to help prevent similar occurrences, employers should:

  • Confirm major vessel repairs are adequate prior to sailing, especially prior to sailing in rough seas and inclement weather.
  • 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 especially rough seas, the Captain should request and obtain a Coast Guard escort for both departing and returning crossings.
  • Vessel Owners/Employers and/or Captains should require crew members to don personal flotation devices (PFDs) when on deck,  especially in rough seas and/or when crossing the bar.
  • Secure all potential water infiltration points in rough seas, including doors, windows, and hatch covers.
  • Captains should routinely assess job hazards and provide regular, monthly safety training and drills, including for man overboard scenarios.
  • Captains should encourage crew members to seek out available regional safety training.

Crab Fishing Vessel Capsizes and Drowns Three Crew Members, Oregonpdf icon [PDF 2,694 KB]

Page last reviewed: July 16, 2020