MAIB publishes report on fatal man overboard mishap on Scottish creel fishing boat

Harriet J (Photo: MAIB)

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published a report on its probe into a fatal man overboard accident on a fishing vessel off the southeastern coast of Scotland nearly two years prior.

At about 07:36 local time on August 28, 2021, the owner and skipper of the lone-operated creel fishing vessel Harriet J accidentally entered the water while shooting fishing gear west of Fast Castle Head in Berwickshire.

The unmanned vessel motored away and the skipper was neither able to reboard the vessel nor call for assistance. There were no witnesses to the accident and the alarm was raised by the skipper of another fishing vessel working in the area, who observed the unmanned vessel at 07:45.

A search was carried out by local fishing boats and emergency services.

The skipper was recovered unconscious from the water shortly before 09:00. He was airlifted to hospital but was declared deceased at 09:55.

The immediate cause of death was drowning.

Harriet J’s skipper was working alone, although in the same area as other fishing vessels, and probably entered the water when his foot became entangled in the chain weight at the end of the fleet of creels that was being deployed at the time. He was neither wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) nor a personal locator beacon (PLB).

Safety issues

  • The chance of survival was reduced because a personal flotation device was not being worn and a personal locator beacon was not carried.
  • There was no effective way for the skipper to enter the working deck to clear a snag without the risk of being entrapped in the fishing gear.
  • The risks of becoming entrapped and pulled into the water had not been fully assessed or mitigated
    once in the water, there was no means for the skipper to remotely stop the engine.
  • Promulgation of safety information related to safety in this sector of industry continues to be problematic.


The Fishing Industry Safety Group (FISG) has been recommended to expedite the delivery of the outcomes of its working group on lone-operated fishing vessels, taking into account the work commissioned by the MCA and Seafish.

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