PHIPPSBURG, Maine — Maine’s lobstermen and women face risks and dangers when they go out on the water. A fall overboard can happen quickly, and most of the fishermen don’t wear life jackets.
But that may be changing. In harbors like West Point in Phippsburg, there is growing interest this year in using protective gear to keep them afloat if something happens.
The change is due, at least in part, to a project called 'Lifejackets for Lobstermen'. Two large vans, sponsored by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, have been travelling much of the New England coast this summer, visiting fishing towns and showing new kinds of life jackets and oilskin pants that can save lives.
"To have something that hinders their work -- they aren’t going to wear something they can’t work in," says Mandy Rome, who is helping lead the project for NIOSH. "So to bring something that’s comfortable, that they can work in and do what they need to do and stay safe, is kind of the best of all worlds for everybody."
Phippsburg’s harbor master Doug Alexander says there is a lot of interest among local fishermen, in part because of accidents that happened in the town in recent years. Alexander says he is now using the flotation clothing on his own fishing boat.
“It's good knowing that in the back of your mind if something does happen, you at least have something (that) is going to float you," he says.
The Lifejackets for Lobstermen project has been offering 50 percent discounts to fishermen who want to purchase some of the equipment. Mandy Rome says one of the most popular items so far has been the 'oilskins', the bib overall pants, similar to the ones most lobstermen wear. The difference is the project is selling bibs that include flotation foam in the chest and back areas, to keep the fisherman afloat.
Rome says the bibs may have the most appeal, because they simply replace an item fishermen already wear.
The project will continue working the coast until late October. The vans are scheduled to be in Wiscasset Thursday and Winter Harbor Saturday, then in Five Islands and the Boothbay region next week.
The full schedule is listed in the Lifejackets for Lobstermen Facebook page.