NEC Life Jackets

New lifejacket van aims to make lifejacket use easy and affordable

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Lobster fishing deaths accounted for the highest number of occupational fatalities in East Coast fisheries from 2010-2014. Most of these deaths were related to falls overboard (50%) or vessel disasters (30%) and based on fatality report narratives, none of the recovered victims was wearing a lifejacket.

Board Member Brooks

Researchers at the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety: Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (NEC) have been working with lobstermen in Maine and Massachusetts over the past few years to understand why lifejacket use has been relatively uncommon among fishermen in this fishery sector. Feedback from the community has pointed to a number of barriers to lifejacket use that the NEC and their partners (Fishing Partnership Support Services, Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, McMillian Offshore Survival Training and the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association) plan to address with a “Lifejackets for Lobstermen” campaign.

According to the Project’s Coordinator, Rebecca Weil, the campaign will launch in April of 2019 and will address the prior barriers that lobstermen have experienced when considering lifejackets.

We’ve been working with lobstermen over the past few years to identify user-friendly, commercially available lifejackets and fortunately, we have identified many that lobstermen find appealing. We have also discovered that choosing a lifejacket is really a matter of personal preference, so fishermen need to have a number of options to consider, as well as information on the various features that will likely meet their specific work needs”.

Two lifejacket vans will drive to ports in Maine and Massachusetts. The vans will provide lifejacket options at a one-time discount and will allow fishermen to try them on, get information about the various options available and learn about additional technology that can improve fishermen’s chances of recovery and survival in the event of a fall overboard.

In addition to improving access to affordable lifejackets, the campaign seeks to make the process of getting and using lifejackets, a positive, fun experience.

“The Lifejackets for Lobstermen campaign is really more than just a mobile van that carries lifejackets, it’s about bringing the community together to celebrate and support a very important segment of coastal economies. We have been working with local partners to promote the vans and organize fun and engaging activities wherever possible in the various ports that the vans will service”, says Julie Sorensen, the Project’s Director

Over the next few months, the research group and its partners hope to make lifejacket use the norm in the lobster fishing community. If the vans prove successful, NEC researchers plan to work with local partners, community members, retailers, and fishing groups to develop a transition plan that will ensure the sustainability of the program through local ownership. Most importantly, they hope to improve fishermen’s chances of survival and markedly reduce fatalities in the lobster fishing industry in the coming years.

The NEC is funded through the Centers for Disease Control to address prominent occupational safety and health hazards in agricultural, forestry and fishing communities throughout the Northeast. In addition to conducting research and developing safety programs, the Center offers safety training, health screening and counseling services to agricultural, forestry and fisheries workers.

Since April 1st, the Lifejacket Vans have visited 43 harbors, twice, along the coast of Maine and Massachusetts. We are pleased to be able to add these additional ports in response to requests from fishermen. The additional ports are between areas already visited to increase the reach for individuals who previously missed the vans.
Equipped with 11 different models of lifejackets and buoyancy aids, the dockside vans are giving everyone the opportunity to try on personal flotation devices (PFDs) to see what will work for them. Commercial lobstermen, and commercial fishermen with a lobster bycatch license are eligible to purchase these devices at the vans for a 50% discount. The Lifejacket Vans have distributed over 750 lifejackets to commercial lobstermen!
Falls overboard are the most frequent cause of death in the Northeast lobster fishing industry. These events can happen in a split second, without the chance to put on a life saving device. Over 550 commercial lobstermen provided input about comfort and workability of PFDs, helping us select an excellent array of devices for fishermen to compare side-by-side at the vans.
The Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety (NEC) is collaborating on this project with Fishing Partnership Support Services, Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, McMillan Offshore Survival Training and the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association.

To find out where the lifejacket van will be, go to our Facebook page for updates If you have questions, feel free to call: 607-221-4448, or email:


What is the Lifejacket for Lobstermen Project?
We have been working with commercial lobstermen to find out what lifejackets they can wear while working; to be prepared for those unexpected events like falls overboard, which account for the majority of lobster fishing fatalities.

What are the Lifejacket Vans?
Two Lifejacket Vans are visiting over 40 ports in Maine and Massachusetts over the course of eight months; offering the ability to compare popular life saving devices side by side, and the chance for commercial lobstermen to purchase these at a 50% discount.

How can I find the vans or ask questions?
Locations will be frequently posted on our FB page: You can also contact us at 607-221-4448 or

What are in the vans?
We have 11 different models of lifejackets and buoyancy aids available in the vans, with different wear types, buoyancy, and certifications. All the models have been chosen based on feedback from commercial lobstermen who trialed flotation devices and found them to be the most comfortable and workable.

Who can buy lifejackets at the van?
We are able to sell in person to commercial lobstermen, and commercial fishermen with a bycatch lobster license, with the 50% discount.
Everyone is welcome to try on the different models and learn more about them.

What age do you have to be to purchase?
Ages 18+ may purchase lifejackets from the van. Ages 16-17 may purchase a device from the van with parental signature. Captains may buy for crew, but cannot serve as a substitute for parental permission.

Why are you only selling to commercial lobstermen or fishermen with lobster bycatch license?
Commercial lobstermen in the Northeast have the highest rates of fatalities from falls overboard. If the project is successful, we hope local organizations or marine suppliers will continue the program and offer it to a wider range of fishermen.

Why are you selling USCG approved devices as well as non-USCG approved devices?
The purpose of this project is to find out what lobstermen can actually wear regularly and work in easily. Every boat should already have USCG approved lifejackets onboard, but generally fishermen are not wearing them. We are selling lifejackets that lobstermen have identified as being work-friendly, and the vans give fishermen the opportunity to compare different devices side by side, finding what works best for them.

How much do the lifejackets cost?
The lifejackets range from $38 – $240 retail; and with our 50% discount, prices range from $19 – $120.

How do I pay for the lifejacket?
We can accept cash or credit/debit cards. We cannot accept checks. All sales are final; no returns, no exchanges.

How much is Sales Tax for PFDs?
5.5% will be charged for Massachusetts. If you have a tax exempt form/number, please bring it to the vans. It must be written on your receipt for tax to be waived.

Northeast Center Lifejackets for Lobstermen

Check out pictures from the trip!

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