Commercial Fishing Safety: Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Fishermen wearing PFD's

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Falling overboard is the second leading cause of death among commercial fishermen nationwide. Of the 210 fishermen who died from falls overboard between 2000 and 2014, NONE of them were wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) when they drowned. Many of these fatalities would have been prevented if the fisherman had been able to float.

Fishing Safety Success Stories

Improving PFD Use among Commercial Fishermen


There is no regulation requiring fishermen to wear a PFD while working. A NIOSH study conducted in 2008 found that 16% of respondents never wear a PFD while working on deck, even though many respondents also said that PFDs are effective at preventing man overboard fatalities. Reasons for not wearing a PFD included perceived lack of comfort, entanglement hazards, and restrictions to movement while working.

In another part of the study, researchers conducted an evaluation with commercial fishermen from four gear groups to rate the comfort and acceptability of six modern PFDs. About 200 fishermen were asked to evaluate a PFD for one month while working on deck so that wearable PFDs could be identified. The results of this study were translated into a series of gear-specific fact sheets that highlight PFDs rated as comfortable by commercial fishermen.

Live to be Salty

Angus poster

Live to be Salty is a health communication intervention designed to increase adoption of PFDs among commercial fishermen to reduce drownings from falls overboard. To “Live to be Salty” means to take steps that will lead to a long and productive fishing career.

The project focuses on raising awareness of the risk of man overboard fatalities among commercial fishermen and provides links to locating comfortable personal flotation devices that can be worn on deck while working. Materials for the intervention can be found on the NIOSH Live to be Salty Resource Page.

Vessel disasters account for over 50% of commercial fishing fatalities in the United States. This video highlights an all too common type of vessel disaster, a rapid capsizing event due to large waves. The story focuses on a vessel that capsizes in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, and the crew was able to survive 2 hours in the cold water due to the inflatable Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) they wear as standard work gear.

Or view this video on the NIOSH YouTube channel.

Safety Training DVD

NIOSH, in cooperation with AMSEA and Alaska Sea Grant, has created this video designed to help crew prevent and respond to man overboard events. It features interviews with fishermen about experiences with falling overboard, and explains how to successfully recover a person in the water.

Stream this video from youtube.

PFD Study Results
Additional Literature

These are the two peer-reviewed journal papers that describe the results of the NIOSH PFD study in 2008/2009

Page last reviewed: October 6, 2020