[Podcast] Commercial fishing has long topped the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of jobs with the most fatalities — and crabbing in the Alaskan waters is by far the most lethal form of fishing. Guest Robert Travis shares his experiences as a greenhorn deckhand straight out of Dutch Harbor and re-lives harrowing tales of surviving a treacherous 122-day stint fishing for Alaskan crab on the frigid, unforgiving Bering Sea. Read the full blog post for episode #145 at safetyphd.com.
DIRECT LINK to MP3 of this Episode: https://tinyurl.com/SDP145-AUDIO
After high school, Rob was a sponsored professional snowboarder and a coach at the Camp of Champions for four summers in Whistler Blackcomb – which is a ski resort located in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada. By many measures it is the largest ski resort in North America. He broke his tib/fib in July and was put in full leg cast. The lure of adventure and cash called, and Rob cut off the cast with an angle grinder and headed to Alaska for crabbing season.
ALASKAN CRABBING – SIGNING THE DEADLY CONTRACT
Rob shared that he nearly walked away from his opportunity to sign a contract with a crab boat company. The harrowing tales told by locals were just about enough to turn back the men that have a predisposition to seek this level of risk. However, Rob signed the contract and clearly understood the statement that he would experience injury or be killed by doing this work. Survive, and pocket more than $65,000 for 4 months work. Also, know that a 5-year “veteran” deckhand is a rarity as most are maimed or killed before they reach that mark.
DANGERS ON DECK
Working on a 198-foot converted ice breaker, Rob was fortunate to be on one of the most durable rigs out on the ocean. Most crabbing takes place in the unforgiving Bering Sea. Ice can coat boat decks, 700-pound cages being winched aboard can lurch and sweep workers overboard. Even in a survival suit, designed to provide insulation from cold water, death can come before help arrives. About 80% of crab fishery fatalities are from drowning.
WHEN THE HORN BLOWS
16-hour shifts were typical and the swells often unrelenting. The job was so demanding that workers consumed 7000 or more calories daily (triple the intake of a typical adult male). There was one thing that every deckhand dreaded – a blast from the ship’s horn. Rob explained that the skipper was in the wheelhouse and overlooked the deck. The skipper also monitored the ocean and could see approaching swells, some 60-feet high! The skipper would then blast the horn alerting the deckhands to immediately grab onto something sturdy and brace for the unpredictable combination of waves rolling over the deck, a rising or plummeting deck, and sharp angle tilts — not to mention the possibility of a 700-pound crab cage breaking loose and skidding across the deck. Rob recalled the searchlights of nearby boats – trying to find and recover an overboard sailor. He noted that staying fit gave him a split-second advantage to getting to safety and noted that being light and fit are great attributes for this line of work.
CONCRETE IN HIS VEINS
Concrete is the family business for Rob – it’s in his lineage, the family crest. He was pouring 250,000 square feet a summer with his dad when he was 15 and started his own concrete company at age 17 – pouring in summers and snowboarding in winters. After the 2007 crab boat season, Rob decided to start a concrete business. After regrouping from damage sustained in a massive wildfire, he continued to expand his concrete work. He’s won gold medals at the international polished concrete awards twice in craftsman and commercial division.
ROOF TOP LIFE RAFTS
Roughly five years ago, Rob and a small group of friends were determined to design and build the best safety and survival gear for floods and natural disasters. Hence, Roof Top Life Rafts was founded. Millions of people around the world endure deadly, unpredictable floods from storms, natural disasters or failure of water management systems. Homeowners, office workers, students, all need a solution to get themselves to safety in an emergency flood situation. More about RTLR when Rob returns to the show later this year!
This is episode #145 of The Safety Doc Podcast
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Robert Travis’ website: https://www.rooftopliferafts.com/
Purchase Dr. Perrodin’s book: Schools of Errors – Rethinking School Safety in America