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While trawling for Patagonian toothfish around Heard Island, a crew member in his twenties got knocked overboard into two-degree Celsius waters while leaning out over the rail to hook up the sweep wire to the trawl door.

He was in the water for nearly 20 minutes with 40-knot winds and sixmetre seas before he was pulled back on board. He was extremely lucky to survive but he suffered hypothermia, which took months to recover from.

His workmates saw him go overboard and raised the alert immediately. The skipper did a Williamson turn to get back to the position where he went overboard, while the crew all mustered and used spotlights to locate their mate.

‘He was just conscious when we got him on board. Medical advice from shore recommended Valium and the slow restoration of body temperature,’ said the skipper.

‘As soon as we got him to the ship’s hospital we stripped him bare, dried him off and warmed his body temperature as gently as possible by getting two other crew members to undress and lie next to him under a blanket.’ ‘He recovered relatively quickly except for some tingling in his extremities, which took several months to finally resolve.’

The incident had a significant impact on the crew and afterwards they implemented a whole range of changes to address the risks of falling overboard

These changes ranged from requiring crew be tethered, to slowing down the work flow, adding additional equipment for recovery of crew from the water and improving the alarm systems.

The crew member himself, who is still at sea and now more senior in the team, is a great advocate for safety.

Source: AMSA - Working Boats