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Survival gear is crucial in winter

Coast Guard officials are urging recreational and commercial boaters to ensure they have appropriate survival gear on board during the winter.

A survival suit can mean the difference between life and death in cold-water rescues.

Within a one-week period in early December, three notable incidents occurred that display the need for vigilance while out at sea.

The sailing vessel Raw Faith became disabled offshore while transiting from Massachusetts to Bermuda. The men had only one survival suit on board. With only a hand-held radio, the crew used their satellite beacon to notify rescuers of their distress. Coast Guard rescue crews hoisted the men to safety Dec. 7. The ship sank about 36 hours after they signaled for help.

The lobster boat Leidy Ana was sent back to port Dec. 10 by the Coast Guard cutter Flying Fish for multiple safety violations. A boarding crew found that both the life raft and satellite beacon were outdated, federally mandated safety items on board commercial vessels. The vessel, with three fishermen on board, was escorted back to port and will undergo safety inspections.

The lobster boat Timothy Michael lost a crewman overboard Dec. 12 in rough weather about 30 miles south of Matinicus Island, Maine. Two Coast Guard aircraft and two Coast Guard cutters searched the area. Fellow crewmen threw the man a life ring, but he failed to hold on and slipped beneath the surface and did not resurface. The fisherman was not wearing any safety gear when he went overboard. The search for the missing fisherman was suspended at 1 p.m. Dec. 13.

"The importance of survival gear has unfortunately been brought to the forefront [recently] with the tragic loss of a lobsterman off the coast of Maine and the sailing vessel Raw Faith," says Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Barker, the command center chief of the First Coast Guard District Command Center in Boston. "It is important to be well-prepared when going to sea, especially when water temperatures allow only minutes of survival time when exposed to the open water."

Being on the water is inherently dangerous work, the Coast Guard stressed. Safety equipment is paramount for fishermen and recreational boaters to return safely to port.

This article originally appeared in Home Waters Sections of the February issue.