The Samoset Resort's heated pool on March 1 and 2 hosted the U.S. Coast Guard's Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Program, offering water survival safety training that dealt with immersion suits, emergency egress and the use of life rafts.

The training seminar was part of the 38th annual Maine Fishermen's Forum, which is free and open to the public.

According to statistics provided by Fishing Vessel Safety Specialist Paul Bassick, the U.S. Coast Guard responded to 178 fatalities between 1993 and 2012, an average of 8.9 deaths per year.

A majority of the fatalities — 121 deaths in total — were attributed to sinking, man overboard and vessel capsize. Fatalities were primarily located in trawler, lobster, scallop, and clam fisheries.

Fishing Vessel Safety Examiner Kevin Plowman said the training seminar allows Maine and New Hampshire fishermen to gain hands-on experience "before things go bad" and helps reduce stress during emergency situations.

Plowman said immersion suits, which ideally are watertight, are designed to be worn over clothing for maximum insulation. When used properly, immersion suits provide "a lot of survival time," Plowman said.

According to Plowman, a three-inch hole below the waterline of a vessel can admit 306 gallons of water per minute, causing the craft to sink within two or three minutes.

Plowman said seminar attendees practiced chaining — holding on to each other — in order to move through the water "more efficiently, [so] no one gets separated or lost," and swam on their backs to avoid filling their suits with water.

Fishing Vessel Safety Examiner Garry Moores said life rafts — which are pre-packed — include a patching kit and air pump to adjust air pressure, as well as a “fairly substantial” equipment pack. According to Moores, as life raft deployment is rare, experience using them is a vital part of emergency training.

Moores added that, given modern technology such as Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons — or EPIRBs — there is "no need for anybody [to lose] their life."

A helicopter and crew are always on stand-by in the event of emergency, Moores said.

Members of U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety detachment in Belfast present at the March 2 training session included Lt. j.g. Kevin Rousseau and Petty Officer 3rd Class Jesse Hagler.

Rousseau said he used an emergency suit during a February 2013 cold water training operation, which he said “kept me plenty warm,” while Hagler said he participates in water survival training every year because “it’s nice to get into it” before an emergency strikes.

Tim Barrett, a commercial fisherman from Duxbury, Mass., agreed with Coast Guard personnel.

“Commercial fishing is such a dangerous occupation,” Barrett said. “Any training is good.”

Other programs offered at the Maine Fishermen's Forum — which was free and open to the public — included workshops regarding ocean acidification, the future of the northern shrimp fishery and health care screenings.

Camden Herald reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 236-8511 ext. 304 or by email at bokholm@courierpublicationsllc.com.