Robbie Cole, 20, said it was essential those earning a living on the water never set sail without the most basic of equipment – a life jacket.
The seafarer spoke out after joining other North Sea fishermen on an eye-opening training session in a 4m-deep state-of-the-art indoor survival pool in South Tyneside.
He admitted the course, run by safety specialist the RNLI, organised by Grimsby-based Seafish and held at South Shields Marine School’s Marine and Offshore Safety Training Centre (MOST), had delivered a reality check.
Participants were tasked with treading water without a life jacket and in their usual sea clothing – and most lasted barely a minute before summoning on-hand help.
Robbie, who fishes out of Hartlepool and Whitby with his dad Mark, 49, on the Silver Fern vessel, said: “Sea safety is always in the back of my mind – and now more than ever.
“The experience of being in the water and finding myself struggling in so short a time has been quite an eye opener for me.
“The water in this pool is really warm and there are safety people near us, but at sea there would be none of that.
“I’ve started wearing a life jacket at all times when I go to sea, and I now intend to never be without one while at work.
“This experience has actually been a bit of a shock, and I now believe this training should definitely be mandatory for all fishermen.
“I would strongly recommend all fishermen to undertake this short course, it’s been very beneficial.”
The one-day programme, which features classroom and pool learning and is funded by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), aims to highlight the added risk to life fishermen face without a life jacket.
All safety measures are taken in the pool, with fully-trained lifeguards and lifebuoys to hand.
Seafish training adviser Katie Hooper hailed the programme as a potential game changer in an industry which saw 10 man overboard deaths in 2021, a recent yearly peak.
She said: “Fishermen have been largely left to their own devices, no-one has been watching them even though it is now the law to wear a lifejacket.
“The MCA is cracking down hard on those who do not take this simple precaution and skippers can be fined or even have their vessels impounded.
“I think attitudes among the country’s 1,200 trawlermen are changing, and this training programme is playing a critical role.
“Feedback is usually very positive, with many participants telling how shocked they are by how short a time they are in the water before they start struggling.
“Even those who are fit will last only a few minutes if they do not have a life jacket.
“I hear from them the reasons why they don’t like wearing one, or won’t wear one, and it’s just not reason enough.
“Some feel it gets in their way and can snag, but that’s really no excuse. For those who do perish, their families also suffer.”
“Fishermen tend to view their work as being dangerous and so carry on regardless, but the number of man overboard deaths is on the increase and such loss would be unacceptable in any other industry.
“The course is important to show them the very real dangers they face and how that risk can be minimised.”
MOST, which is part of Tyne Coast College, is one of Britain’s leading centres for teaching Merchant Navy and oil and gas industry personnel how to stay safe in a sea emergency.
Michael Speers, Head of School, said: “We are so committed to supporting this important training that we have provided our fantastic facilities without charge.
“Safety among fishermen has traditionally been poorly regulated, which has contributed to deaths which could likely have been avoided had better procedures been in place.
“It is very important to the fishing industry that safety is tightened and that those working in it have a very clear understanding of how their lives can be saved by the simple act of wearing a life jacket.
“Our first-class facilities are perfect for very powerfully showing fishermen just how much better their chances of survival are if they wear a life jacket while at sea.”
The Marine School said participants on the non-mandatory course are paid £200 for loss of earnings.
More information is available by visiting https://seafishonlinetraining.co.uk