Fishing Safety


It is important that every fishing vessel, small or large, is able to communicate with other vessels and on shore stations. Therefore, each fishing vessel should be equipped at least with a Very High Frequency (VHF) radio transceiver and a radio receiver for weather forecasts. The fishing crew should at all times avail themselves of maritime safety information (MSI) given by radio, and need to be aware of the regular times such information is issued for their respective area.

MSI is essential for the safety of fishers and their vessels, as it provides: meteorological warnings and forecasts, ice reports, navigational warnings and updates, search and rescue (SAR) information, and pilot service messages.

Photo credit: ©FAO/Fish Safety Foundation

VHF radios are for most fishing vessels the primary means of two-way communication. They can be used to send simple messages to other vessels, or to contact shore stations and search and rescue agencies in case of an emergency.

VHF radios used should be capable of digital selective calling (DSC) on frequency 156.525 MHz (channel 70) for distress alerts and the following frequencies for radiotelephony: 156.800 MHz (channel 16), 156.300 MHz (channel 6) and 156.650 MHz (channel 13). Channel 16 is the main channel for emergencies and channel 13 is mainly used for communication between vessels.

Every crew member on a fishing vessel should be able to operate the VHF radio in case of emergency. Radio discipline is important as every second counts in an emergency. Therefore crew members should know the basics of how to use the radio, the phonetic alphabet, important distress calls (MAY DAY, PAN PAN, Sécurité), how to transfer information on the position of the vessel, and the type of emergency and assistance needed.

Photo credit: ©FAO

Larger vessels and those that operate further off-shore are generally required to carry a search and rescue radar transponder (radar-SART) or an Automatic Identification System - SART (AIS-SART) as well as a satellite emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB). The latter is increasingly recommended for use by small-scale fishers as well.

Detailed information on radio communications can be found in the Safety Recommendations for Decked Fishing Vessels of Less than 12 metres in Length and Undecked Fishing Vessels, 2012. (link in French, link in Spanish)

Photo credit: ©FAO

Some other means of internationally accepted communication means that can be used in case of an immediate emergency include:

  • Light red or orange flares, or orange smoke signals.
  • Wave arms: Stretch your arms out and slowly and repeatedly raise and lower them.
  • Sound: fire a gun, continuous fog signaling, blow a whistle, do a group shout if another vessel is within reach.
  • Mirror or reflection: If you cannot see a vessel in the distance, sweep the horizon with a mirror to catch the attention of a rescuer or passing vessel. If you spot another vessel, aim reflected light directly at the wheelhouse and cover and uncover the mirror to create a flash three times.
  • Flash light: At night, direct your torch to the wheelhouse of an approaching vessel, and signal the SOS Morse code: