Owners of UK-flagged fishing vessels are responsible for basic health and safety on board their boats, safe working practices and safety equipment.
The Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1997 includes measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at sea. Owners must also ensure their crews follow safe working practices and that all equipment on board is properly installed and maintained.
This guide explains health and safety provisions and how to ensure crew working practices are safe by complying with regulations for safe manning levels and working times. You will also find information on the safe use and maintenance of work equipment and fishing gear, as well as emergency and lifesaving equipment.
The guide also outlines risk assessment of hazards and provides a list of organisations that can supply further information on safe working practices for fishing vessels.
Fishing vessel health and safety
Under the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1997 Regulations, it is your duty to protect the health and safety of workers and others affected by their activities.
There are certain fundamentals you can follow to ensure health and safety on a fishing vessel, for example:
- risk avoidance - combating risks at source by replacing dangerous practices, substances or equipment with less or non-dangerous ones
- risk evaluation - taking action to reduce unavoidable risks
- individual work patterns and procedures - workplace design and equipment to alleviate monotonous work
- procedural adaptation - using new technology and other changes to improve working practices, equipment and the working environment
- vessel management - logical approach that takes account of health and safety at every level
- protective measures - prioritise collective measures over individual
- training and information - appropriate and relevant for all workers
For further information on health and safety aboard fishing vessels, see the health and safety section on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) website.
Fishing vessel owners’ and operators’ responsibilities
Fishing vessel owners are responsible for ensuring their vessels comply with the regulations for construction and how they are operated. There are separate regulations for vessels of less than 15 metres in overall length, for vessels 15 metres to less than 24 metres in length and for over 24 metres in length.
Fishing vessels below 15 metres in length - general responsibilities
Fishing vessels 15 metres to less than 24 metres in length must be built, maintained and operated according to the provisions of the code set out in the MCA document MSN 1872 (F).
Download MSN 1872 (F) The Code of Safe Working Practice for the Construction and Use of Fishing Vessels of 15m Length Overall to less than 24m Registered Length here
Fishing vessels of 24 metres length and above - general responsibilities
For vessels of 24 metres’ registered length and over, construction and operating standards are set out in MSN 1873 (F) The Code of Practice for the Construction and Safe Operation of Fishing Vessels of 24m Registered Length and Over
Other responsibilities for fishing vessel owners and operators
There are numerous other responsibilities that owners and operators of fishing vessels must follow to ensure the safety and health of seafarers. In particular, you must adhere to regulations regarding:
- Vessel construction
- Documents on vessels
- Marine engineering and safety requirements.
- Fishing vessels: construction and maintenance standards
- Hazard prevention
- Fire protection and escape procedures
Safe watchkeeping, navigation and avoiding accidents
Fishing vessel operators should follow recommendations on keeping a safe navigation watch.
Keeping watch on fishing vessels
The requirements are set out in the MCA document, MGN 313 (F) - keeping a safe navigational watch on fishing vessels.
Safety recommendations for watchkeeping include the following provisions:
- seafarers keeping watch must be competent to do so
- a proper lookout must be kept at all times
- lookouts must be capable of checking the vessel’s position
- activities of all other vessels in the area should be monitored
- seafarers should have had enough rest before a watch
- television and similar distractions should not be available to crew on watch
Wheelhouse visibility safety requirements are specified in the MCA’s MGN 314 (F) document, wheelhouse visibility onboard fishing vessels.
Safety principles for wheelhouse visibility for fishing vessels include:
- as little obstruction as possible to wheelhouse view from bow structures
- clear view ahead from steering position for all new fishing vessels
- arrangements to improve visibility where necessary - eg through use of lookouts
- taking account of effects of ice and fishing gear on forward visibility
Navigation in restricted visibility conditions
Safety requirements for navigating fishing vessels in conditions of reduced visibility are set out in the MCA document MGN 369 (M+F) Navigation in restricted visibility.
The recommendations include guidance on:
- proper conduct of vessels in restricted visibility conditions
- determining risk of collision in close quarters
- correct avoiding actions
- compliance with steering and sailing rules
- determining safe speeds and a close-quarters situation in conditions of restricted visibility
Electronic navigation equipment should not be relied upon exclusively. Navigators should cross-check position-fixing readings using other methods, and be aware of factors affecting the accuracy of the equipment.
Communications between wheelhouse and engine room
For fishing vessels over 24 metres but less than 45 metres in length, communication between the wheelhouse and propulsion machinery can be carried out by means other than an engine room telegraph. Machinery space control stations in vessels of this size can be used as emergency stations - as long as the wheelhouse has monitoring and control facilities.
Owners of fishing vessels of 45 metres and over should provide two separate means of communication between the wheelhouse and machinery space control platform. One of these should be an engine room telegraph.
Avoiding accidents from fatigue or overwork
Fishing vessel operators can reduce the chance of accidents on vessels caused by fatigue or overwork.
Causes of fatigue among fishing crews include:
- frequent port turnarounds
- regular 12 hours or more working days
- adverse weather conditions
Reduced concentration and performance are among the physical effects of fatigue.
Vessel operators should know how to detect signs of fatigue - such as changes in mood and alertness. Practical measures to alleviate the problem include drinking water, regular breaks and taking naps.
Working time regulations for sea fishermen
Safety regulations governing working time regulations for fishing vessel crews are summarised in the MCA document MSN 1786 (F).
The regulations include:
- working time of a seafarer not to exceed 48 hours in a seven-day period, averaged over 52 weeks
- rest hours should not be less than ten hours per 24 hour period, or 77 hours per week
- seafarers should have at least four weeks’ annual leave
- exceptions may be made for technical or operational reasons, eg in emergencies
Special arrangements should be made for seafarers on night duties, eg:
- entitlement to free health assessment
- organisation of rest breaks
- keeping a record of hours worked and breaks taken
Trawling procedures and operating areas
There are special safety regulations governing trawling procedures - and also for fishing vessels operating outside British ports, and in submarine exercise areas.
Marking fishing gear
For guidance on the marking of fishing gear please click here.
Safety requirements for trawling are listed in the MCA document, MGN 415: Fishing vessels: the hazards associated with trawling, including beam trawling and scallop dredging.
Hazards of trawling include:
- equipment failure
- snagging of gear and loss of stability
To minimise trawling hazards, vessel operators should ensure:
- crew familiarity with trawling equipment and procedures
- closure of weathertight doors when not in use
- procedures are in place for recovering fouled gear
Operating outside European ports
Fishing vessels operating outside European ports should follow the safety guidance in the MCA document MGN 414: Fishing vessels - overseas management.
Operators can face difficulties operating outside familiar European ports, eg the west coast of Africa, eg: access to spares, repair facilities and technical support.
Measures owners can take to improve crew safety in these areas include:
- ensuring vessel surveys are up to date
- introducing a management system to monitor and help vessels operating outside European waters
- having a strategic plan - eg controlling the use of resources and contingencies for unexpected departures from operating plans
- clearly establishing the authority of the master with the owner before departure
- making provision for repairs - including on-board repairs using spares and possible local repairs arranged by a local agent
- ensuring all equipment is well maintained and that crews are familiar with operating procedures
Operating in submarine exercise areas
Fishing vessels operating in submarine exercise areas should be familiar with the safety guidance in the MCA document MGN 12 (F).
Operators of vessels in such areas should be familiar with the measures taken by the Royal Navy (RN) to minimise risks to fishing vessels, eg:
- SUBFACTS radio broadcasts, identifying exercise areas through broadcasts on frequencies specified in the Admiralty List of Radio Signals (ALRS)
- submarine commanders’ code of practice for dived submarines to reduce risk to fishing vessels through avoidance strategies
- use by the RN of a fishing vessel safety ship (FVSS) during exercises
If a fishing vessel experiences a total power failure in a submarine exercise area - and is therefore silent and undetectable to submarine sonar - operators should alert the Coastguard immediately. They should also consider marking and releasing fishing gear for later collection.
The MCA has issued supplementary guidance to the submarine exercise areas described in MGN (12) F.
Risk assessment for fishing vessels
Fishing vessel operators - whether of seagoing or non-seagoing ships - must comply with the risk assessment requirements listed in the MCA document MGN 20 (M+F): Merchant shipping and fishing vessels (health and safety at work) regulations 1997.
A risk assessment is an examination of harm that could come to workers carrying out their duties. Operators should carry out assessments of work activities on fishing vessels to identify:
- seafarers at particular risk while performing their duties
- appropriate health and safety measures
Vessel owners can adapt their existing safety management systems to meet general risk assessment principles, eg:
- checking if enough precautions have been taken to prevent accidents and ill health
- classifying hazards as ‘significant’ or not
Precautionary measures forming part of risk assessment include:
- permits to work
- restricted access to areas of the vessel
- warning signs
Risk assessment is a continuous process, but must also be carried out before any significant changes in the vessel’s equipment or procedures.
Operators must record their risk assessment findings in written format, and list the main elements of their assessment process, eg:
- classifying work activities
- identifying hazards and personnel at risk
- determining level of risk
- deciding if risk is tolerable
- preparing action plan where necessary
- reviewing the effectiveness of the action plan
For more details of how to conduct a risk assessment, download MGN 20 (M+F) Merchant shipping and fishing vessels (health and safety at work) regulations 1997.
Seafarers can download a folder of sample risk assessment forms for fishing vessels from the Seafish website. The folder also contains examples of completed risk assessment forms for different fishing vessel operations.
Risk assessments of young seafarers
Operators should carry out special risk assessment procedures for young people working on fishing vessels. These should take into account extra risks that arise from their lack of experience, risk awareness and maturity.
Manual handling procedures
Manual handling procedures for fishing vessels are summarised in the MCA document MGN 90 (M+F), which includes guidance on risk assessment.
Fishing vessel operators must have procedures in place to prevent seafarers needing to handle manual loads. These should be based on risk assessments of load handling on board - including factors such as available space, lighting, and the capacity of the seafarer.
Protection from vibration in equipment
Operators must take carry out risk assessments of hazards associated with vibration in equipment and introduce procedures to protect crews. Safety requirements to protect seafarers from vibration are set out in the MCA document MGN 353 (M+F).
Drugs and alcohol
You can read fishing vessel safety recommendations regarding the effects of alcohol and drug abuse on survival at sea in the MCA document MGN 193 (M+F).
Safe use of work equipment and protective gear
Fishing vessel operators must follow regulations on the safe use of work equipment. The regulations also apply to all self-employed persons on fishing vessels.
Lifting and non-lifting equipment
Lifting equipment on board vessels is covered by the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment (LOLER) regulations.
Fishing vessels are not classed as work equipment - except where parts of their structure support lifting equipment or form part of it. Such parts must be assessed under the these regulations.
[Download MGN 332 (M+F) the Merchant shipping and fishing vessels (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mgn-332a-ms-fv-lifting-operations-lifting-equipment-regulations-2006).
Non-lifting tools, machinery and equipment used at work are covered by the Provision and Use of Work Equipment (PUWER) regulations.
Non-lifting equipment used on fishing vessels must be:
- suitable for the work being carried out
- adapted for purpose
- capable of being used by workers without risk to their health and safety
- accompanied by an instruction manual, if CE marked
Fishing vessel operators must arrange regular inspections of equipment, to determine whether seafarers face health and safety risks, eg from component failure.
The inspections should take place often enough to pick up any deterioration caused by exposure of the equipment to adverse conditions.
Lifting equipment must be inspected:
- after installation and before first use
- after assembly at a new site or location
- every six months for equipment designed to lift people
- every 12 months for other lifting equipment
Protective equipment regulations for seafarers are listed in MCA document MSN 1731 (M+F).
The regulations make it compulsory for seafarers to use personal protective equipment (PPE) - whether provided by the vessel operator or belonging to the seafarer - during work operations involving risk.
Design standards for PPE are also set out in this guidance, together with recommendations on storage and maintenance.
Seafarers employed on fishing vessels must be trained in how to use PPE consistent with their duties.
Owners also have a responsibility to build PPE use into risk assessments of working practices. PPE should, for example, only be used if risks identified by risk assessment cannot be reduced to acceptable levels.
You also have a responsibility to protect your seafarers from vibration, under the Vibration Regulations.
Lifesaving appliances and safety equipment
General safety regulations for lifesaving and safety equipment on fishing vessels are summarised in the MCA MSN M.1467.
All types and sizes of fishing vessel should carry enough lifejackets for everyone, and additional lifejackets where this is required by regulations or Codes, on board.
Other general lifesaving equipment requirements include:
- lifejackets to be equipped with lights
- float-free arrangements for liferafts
- provision of emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) of 406 MHz design
Lifesaving requirements for vessels under 15 metres
For fishing vessels of less than 15 metres, safety requirements include:
- • liferafts for decked vessels of 7 metres and above
- float-free EPIRBs
Further details of the required lifesaving appliances for vessels of less than 15 metres can be found in MSN 1871.
Lifesaving requirements for vessels of 15 metres to less than 24 metres
For fishing vessels of 15 metres to less than 24 metres, safety requirements include:
- at least two liferafts able to carry all people on board - one of which can be launched from either side of the vessel
- flares and signals
- float-free EPIRBs of an approved type
Further details of the required lifesaving appliances for vessels of 15 metres to less than 24 metres can be found in MSN 1872.
Lifesaving requirements for vessels over 24 metres
Details of lifesaving appliances required for vessels of 24 metres and over can be found in the MSN 1873 (F) The Code of Practice for the Construction and Safe Operation of Fishing Vessels of 24m Registered Length and Over.
Location and stowage of lifesaving equipment
Safety requirements for stowage of these items are listed in MCA document MGN 267 (F). You can find guidance on MGN 267 (F) The location and stowage of liferafts and EPIRBs on fishing vessels.
Guidance on securing, stowage and launching of liferafts, and fitting of hydrostatic release units (HRUs) is listed in the MCA document MGN 343 (M+F). Download MGN 343 (M+F) Hydrostatic Release Units (HRUs) - Stowage and Float Free Arrangements for Inflatable Liferafts.
Use of personal flotation devices
Fishing vessel crews must wear personal flotation devices at all times while on open deck at sea. Lifejackets and personal flotation devices should be regularly checked to ensure they are still functional.
Download MGN 553 (M+F) Life-Saving Appliances - Inflatable Non-SOLAS Liferafts, Lifejackets, Marine Evacuation Systems, Danbuoys and Lifebuoys - Technical Standards and Servicing Requirements and MGN 548 (M=F) Life-Saving Appliances – Inflatable SOLAS Certificated Liferafts, Lifejackets, Marine Evacuation Systems, and repair of Inflated Rescue Boats – Servicing Requirements and Approved Service Stations.
Servicing of lifesaving appliances
Fishing vessel owners and operators should service their lifesaving equipment regularly to ensure that it works properly. Recommendations include:
- annual servicing of all lifesaving appliances
- servicing should be undertaken by approved service stations
You should return MCA-approved HRUs with an operational life of two years to an authorised service station for a function test at the end of their operational life.
Download MGN 553 (M+F) Life-Saving Appliances - Inflatable Non-SOLAS Liferafts, Lifejackets, Marine Evacuation Systems, Danbuoys and Lifebuoys - Technical Standards and Servicing Requirements and MGN 548 (M+F) Life-Saving Appliances – Inflatable SOLAS Certificated Liferafts, Lifejackets, Marine Evacuation Systems, and repair of Inflated Rescue Boats – Servicing Requirements and Approved Service Stations.
Emergency radio equipment
Safety requirements for maintaining emergency radio equipment on fishing vessels are listed in the MCA document MSN 1801 (F).
Crew safety training
Fishing vessel crew should receive regular training in the use of lifesaving equipment. You should carry out emergency drills on a monthly basis to ensure the crew are familiar with lifesaving equipment.
Emergency drills now form part of a vessel’s safety certification, and must be performed in front of surveyors. They also form part of seafarers’ certificates of competency validation. The crew should practise emergency drills monthly, and whenever a new member joins.
You can find information on training requirements in Fishing certification and training. There is also guidance on Emergency Drills on fishing vessels in MGN 570 (F) and also MGN 571 (F) which provides guidance for the Prevention of Man Overboard on fishing vessels.
Protecting fishermen from noise, vibration and hazardous substances
Safety regulations exist to protect fishing vessel crews from noise and exposure to dangerous goods carried on board.
Exposure to noise
Fishing vessel operators must comply with control of noise at work regulations, covering areas such as:
- daily noise exposure levels
- exposure limit levels - daily and weekly
- health surveillance of crew hearing
- impulsive noise - eg noises of short duration, occurring irregularly
Operators also have a duty to control noise on vessels, as explained in the MCA document MGN 352 (M+F). The regulations include:
- derogations for ships on public service, eg search and rescue
- risk assessments identifying sources of noise, level of risk and steps required from employers to reduce the risk to crew
- providing hearing protection equipment for crew
- crew information and training procedures on minimising the risk from noise
Protection from exposure to hazardous substances
Safety regulations to protect fishing vessel crews from exposure to carcinogens and mutagens are listed in the MCA document MGN 356 (M+F). The regulations include advice on:
- risk assessments required by employers for exposure to carcinogens and mutagens
- definitions of carcinogens and mutagens
- rules surrounding exposure to radiation
- health risk assessment of crew - especially those at high risk
- measures to prevent or reduce exposure
Exposure to carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide detectors are mandatory on all fishing vessels, for information please download the following codes:
The MCA has issued a safety alert, warning operators and crews to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning on fishing vessels.
Petrol generators on board vessels should be checked to ensure:
- the equipment provides enough power for accommodation and lighting
- ventilation for the generator is adequate (more is needed for burners and stoves)
- alarms are fitted to warn sleeping crewmembers of the risk of CO poisoning
- escape routes are available for the crew in an emergency
Exposure to vibration
Under the Vibration Regulations, you should minimise or eliminate vibration exposure for all seafarers.
Organisations that can help
Several organisations can provide useful advice for fishing vessel operators and seafarers on safety procedures.
Maritime and Coastguard Agency
The MCA is the agency responsible for implementing the government’s maritime safety policy. Its branches include:
- Seafarer Health and Safety
- Vessel policy
International Labour Organization
The ILO is a United Nations (UN) organisation that promotes dialogue between employers and labour worldwide, campaigns for fair and decent working conditions for employees, and encourages employment opportunities. You can call their helpline on +41 22 799 6111 .
International Maritime Organization
The IMO is a UN agency overseeing international standards to regulate shipping. You can contact their helpline on 020 7735 7611.
National Fishermen’s Federation Organisation
The National Fishermen’s Federation Organisation (NFFO) represents the interests of fishermen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. You can contact their helpline on 01904 635430.
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation represents the interests of fishermen in Scotland. You can contact the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation Helpline on Tel 01224 646 944.
Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation
The Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation represents the interests of fishermen in Northern Ireland. Contact the their helpline on 028 4277 1946/1954.
Sea Fish Industry Authority
The SFIA promotes the seafood industry, promoting good quality seafood and also providing guidance in areas such as:
- fishermen’s training
- under 24 metre vessel survey services
- vessel construction standards
You can call the SFIA Helpline on 01472 252 300.
Lifejacket checks guidance: Download MGN 553 (M+F) Life-Saving Appliances - Inflatable Non-SOLAS Liferafts, Lifejackets, Marine Evacuation Systems, Danbuoys and Lifebuoys - Technical Standards and Servicing Requirements and MGN 548 (M=F) Life-Saving Appliances – Inflatable SOLAS Certificated Liferafts, Lifejackets, Marine Evacuation Systems, and repair of Inflated Rescue Boats – Servicing Requirements and Approved Service Stations.