Regrettably, there have been several instances in which crew members have drowned alongside fishing vessels whilst their crewmates desperately tried to recover them from the water. It was a report in ‘Fishing News’ about such a man overboard incident that prompted retired Peterhead Skipper, Robert Reid, to start thinking about a possible solution.
Rob, who had pioneered improvements in fishing such as ‘shelterdecks’ and shooting seine ropes over the top of shelter decks to keep crew members clear of danger, looked and tested some of the products on the market for man overboard recovery and discovered that none were entirely suitable for the job on modern high sided fishing vessels.
Rob decided to use his experience and knowledge of the fishing industry to good use and come up with a practical and effective device to do the job – The Fisherman’s solution.
He rapidly came up with the concept of a floating cage that would contain the casualty and enable him/her to be lifted, by winch, crane, powerblock or even by hand, back on-board the vessel. He made models to prove the concept, as it had to fold compactly for storage on the vessel. Convinced by the models he then got a local company to make a prototype and convinced family to help try out his idea.
Rob identified a few problems with the man overboard rescue cage prototype but carried on, undaunted, to get another cage fabricated with improvements to resolve the initial problems. Three more overboard cage prototypes were eventually made as improvements were identified and resolved.
The Sea Fish Industry Authority had worked with Rob Reid on various other projects over the years and on receiving an invitation to see a demonstration of the man overboard rescue cage from a large fishing vessel in Peterhead harbour they readily agreed. From the demonstration it was obvious that the man overboard cage was an effective means of rescue, as it not only provided the means of lifting the casualty back on-board but it also provided a ‘safe haven’ for the person in the water that one had to simply swim into to be safe.
Given that the idea was good in principle, Seafish agreed to help as part of their safety related work for the fishing industry. They produced detailed drawings and quotations were sought for commercial manufacture. North East Fabricators from Banff were the most competitive tender and were commissioned to build the first commercial man overboard cage prototype. The cage was delivered to Seafish in Hull for testing to take place in the wave and wind tank at Lowestoft Maritime College.
Problems were encountered immediately with the waves which had not been seen in calm water and it was obvious to all that it was back to the drawing board for the rescue cage.
Rob Reid, Alan Dean of Seafish and James Kerr of North East Fabricators all worked as a team, with expertise in different areas, to try to resolve the problems. Another man overboard prototype cage was manufactured and once again sent off for testing. This cage resolved many of the initial problems but in doing so created new ones which once again would have to be resolved.
The team once again burned the midnight oil and tried to come up with solutions to the problems encountered and at no time did the thought of giving up ever cross their minds. Some radical changes to the design were implemented which resulted in the manufacture of a simple, lightweight but strong aluminium cage. This man overboard cage took only seconds to erect, was very compact and the team sent it off once again for testing. Some days later the results and film footage of the tests came back.
The man overboard cage had passed all tests better than the team could have hoped. Great stability in the worst conditions that the Lowestoft Wave Tank could produce, supported two men and rode the waves in harmony with the casualties. The rescue cage was very rigid which allowed easy and unrestricted entry by casualty or rescuer to pull a person into, even with a life-jacket on, and protected the casualty in the cage from buffeting against the side walls of the tank.
To complete the package an aluminium storage container was designed by James Kerr to hold the man overboard cage, lifting straps and associated guide ropes etc. This also protected the cage from the elements and allows rapid and easy deployment of the device in seconds.
The patent pending man overboard rescue cage and film footage of the tests were shown for the first time to the general public at the Fishing Exhibition in Glasgow on May of 2005 and generated a huge amount of interest.
Rob Reid and North East Fabricators have continued to pursue the commercialisation of the rescue cage, which is called ‘C Rescue’. Already, several Scottish and Irish fishing vessels have installed the rescue cage, some of whom say they would not go to sea now without the device.
The rescue cage was also demonstrated on-board an Ocean Tug at Shetland Oil Terminal which culminated in the controlled rescue of a man jumping into the cold water and being back on the ships deck in under two minutes. Needless to say they purchased four cages and after a demonstration for Peterhead Pilot Boat they saw the capabilities of the rescue equipment and also did not hesitate in purchasing the device.