Lifejackets and Lobstermen: Giving Safety Equipment a Competitive Advantage

J Agromedicine. 2019 Oct;24(4):381-390. doi: 10.1080/1059924X.2019.1635935. Epub 2019 Jun 30.


Background: Falls overboard are the most frequent cause of death in the Northeast lobster fishing industry. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) surveillance indicates every victim of a fall overboard who has been found was not wearing a lifejacket. Preliminary research conducted in Maine and Massachusetts indicates lifejacket use is relatively uncommon among lobstermen due to barriers such as comfort, practicality, and social norms.Methods: This study highlights an initiative to: (1) trial various lifejacket designs with lobstermen; (2) identify the most popular designs; and (3) identify other features that could encourage use of lifejackets. In 2017, nine designs were trialed with lobstermen in Maine and Massachusetts during the winter and summer fishing seasons. Participants were recruited dockside, and lifejackets were randomly assigned. Participants completed surveys at 1 week and 4 weeks to assess positive and negative design features and to understand the importance of survival technology that can be used in conjunction with lifejackets.Results: 181 lobstermen in Maine and Massachusetts agreed to participate. Recruitment rates were 90.5%, while the survey completion rate was 88.4%. Survey results identified no clear preference for a specific lifejacket design; however, the ability to choose from many options appeared to be an important factor.Conclusion: Previous studies have indicated that lifejacket preferences are fisheries specific. In the Northeast lobster fishery, however, individual preferences varied. Our research demonstrates that a range of devices covering different buoyancies, wear type, and retrieval systems should be made more available to lobstermen.

Keywords: Buoyancy aid; falls overboard; lifejacket; lobstermen; personal flotation device (PFD).

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / prevention & control*
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Fisheries / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Maine / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Massachusetts / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Nephropidae / growth & development
  • Occupational Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Occupational Injuries / epidemiology
  • Occupational Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Protective Devices / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult