Commercial Fishing Safety on the West Coast

An image with a Dungeness crab vessel loaded with pots in the foreground and the Yaquina Bay Bridge in the background.

In 2009, NIOSH completed an in-depth study of commercial fishing fatalities in the United States for the decade spanning 2000-2009. The purpose of the study was to identify the most hazardous fisheries around the country and to describe the unique safety issues in each. For this study the US was divided into four fishing regions: Alaska, West Coast, East Coast, and the Gulf of Mexico. The results of this analysis for the West Coast region can be found in the document Fatal Occupational Injuries in the U.S. Commercial Fishing Industry: Risk Factors and Recommendations / West Coast Region.

During 2000-2009, 86 commercial fishing deaths occurred off the West Coast of the US, an average of 9 per year. The fewest fatalities occurred in 2005, with five occupational deaths that year.

West Coast Commercial fishing fatalities by Year and Incident Type (86 Total)

West Coast Commercial fishing Fatalities by Year and Incident Type (86 Total)

Almost 70% of the deaths were caused by drowning following a vessel disaster (e.g. sinking, capsizing, fire, etc.) in which the crew was forced to abandon ship. During two years (2001 and 2006) vessel disasters were the sole cause of commercial fishing fatalities. About one-quarter (24%) of fatalities were the result of falls overboard.

West Coast Commercial fishing Fatalities by Incident Type (86 Total) and West Coast Fisheries with Three or More Fatalities, 2000-2009 (47 Total)

Vessel Disasters

Vessel disasters are sinkings, capsizings, groundings, fires, or other events that force crews to abandon ship. Vessel disasters accounted for half of all fatalities (25, 51%) in the Gulf of Mexico during 2010–2014. The leading causes of fatal vessel disasters were collisions and allisions (striking a stationary object), flooding, and instability.


  • Take a marine safety class at least every five years.
  • Conduct monthly drills for abandon ship, fire, and flooding.
  • Ensure watertight integrity of the vessel.
  • Perform maintenance activities to prevent fires and explosions.


Falls Overboard

During 2010–2014, 13 crewmembers died from drowning after falling overboard, contributing to 27% of fatalities in the region. None of the crewmembers were wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) when they drowned. Over half (54%) of the falls were not witnessed by other crewmembers, either because the fishermen were alone on the vessel (1) or alone on deck (6). Fatal falls overboard were most frequently caused by losing balance or by contact with gear, including being knocked over by or becoming entangled in gear.


  • Wear a PFD on deck.
  • Utilize a man overboard alarm system.
  • Add effective recovery devices and re-boarding ladders.
  • Conduct monthly man-overboard drills.


Onboard Fatalities

Of the fatal onboard injuries (9, 18%), the majority involved contact with equipment: four deaths from being caught in winches, and two deaths from being struck by a hook and by a pulley. The remaining three onboard fatalities were due to a drug overdose and two instances of assault. There are engineering controls available which can help reduce the chance of being caught in a winch


  • Install safety devices on deck machinery.
Page last reviewed: June 8, 2015