NEWPORT — Broken hulls spurting water, a scramble into survival suits and a leap into chilly waters.
Sound like the makings of a marine disaster? That was exactly the intent of trainers this week as 15 NOAA fisheries observers boned up on the skills they will need to stay safe in their jobs as they document what comes up in nets and lines of the commercial boats off Newport and beyond.
Failing to plug a leaking hole with wooden wedges, one quick-thinking trainee in a Coast Guard damage control simulation stripped off their rain jacket and stuffed it in the crack.
Standing in the parking lot at Englund Marine on the bayfront, spectators cheered on the hustling trainees, a reminder that it’s all a game, but one with serious undertones.
If they’re ever in trouble at sea, the observers will comprehend how to use whatever is at hand to make the situation better or assure their own safety.
John LaFargue would know. He was one of the original founders some two decades ago of the West Coast Groundfish Observer Program. He’s been an observer on trawl and longline fishing operations, been on boats when they were burning and seen injuries. Wednesday, he was on the dock at Englund watching trainees make the leap in their survival suits and scramble to right an overturned liferaft.
“You want to keep everybody safe,” he said.
LaFargue explained the day was part of a three-week course that will leave its participants in a better position not just for the job of observing and documenting the catch but to also to fight fires, call in a mayday, abandon ship, shoot off flares and if none of that is to any avail, to survive in cold water.