Lifejackets can save lives and I have met the proof

Posted by Dr Lynn Gilmore on 06 March 2014

I met the proof that lifejackets really can save lives last September in Portavogie, Northern Ireland.

The proof is a young fisherman called Sam Cully. In September, Sam was pulled from the Irish Sea by Portaferry Lifeboat, following the rapid sinking of his vessel. He was unconscious but alive after nearly one hour in the water.

Sitting with his partner, Marie Claire Smyth, in their lovely Portavogie home, just two days after the ordeal, Sam was still in pain and in some degree of shock.  He said he was sure that without his lifejacket he would not be chatting to me and Frankie Horne, Fishing Industry Safety Manager at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

Sam's lifejacket was delivered to him just a month earlier, a result of several years' work and a successful application for a funding package from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) through the European Fisheries Fund, Seafish and Asda Supermarket. The funding was only part of the story- so many people have been involved in the project planning and distribution of lifejackets to fishermen at a series of safety events around the coast of Northern Ireland.

The Fishermen's Mission led the project with support and assistance from Seafish. The Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation, the RNLI, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) through the Fishing Industry Safety Group (FISG) and Mullion Survival Technology as well as DARD and Asda staff and local people around the fishing ports also provided valuable help.


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During our meetings over the last couple of years to discuss all aspects of the project, I never imagined that the importance of wearing lifejackets would be illustrated so starkly and so quickly.

In fact, I have learnt a lot about Lifejackets or Personal Floatation Devices as a result of our project. I have learnt how they work and how they are made and what is important to fishermen in their design. I have learnt how important it is to have them regularly maintained and serviced but most important of all I have learnt that they can, and do, save lives.

As well as learning about lifejackets I have seen first-hand the amazing welfare work of the Fishermen's Mission and I have learnt more about the dedication of the RNLI to saving lives at sea. I have seen the commitment of our Producer Organisations to their members and I have seen how passionate the suppliers of the Compact Lifejackets are in working with the MCA's Fishing Industry Safety Group in creating a lifejacket that is fit for purpose for the fishing industry.

I think it is probably quite rare in any job to embark on a project which has such huge and personal implications and this project- the fishermen; the project team and Sam's story have left a lasting impression on me.

So what does the future hold?

Well, Sam and Marie Claire will be married on the 12th April and Maurice has been asked to officiate.

We continue to distribute lifejackets to fishermen and everyone involved is fully committed to doing whatever they can to help improve the safety of our fishermen at sea.

Someone once said to me that "fish cost lives". Sadly this is too true too often and my hope is that by the joint efforts of our charities, government and industry that we can create a safer work place for our fishermen.