December 6th, 2019

MWC is passionate about improving the narrative around safety in fishing: one of the most dangerous industries in the UK. Our Communications Intern Charlie Young explains that a recent personal experience enhanced her understanding of and commitment to her work on safety at sea here at MWC.



Until recently, cold water shock is something I had heard of but never experienced. Having spent a lot of time in the sea both as a child and during my adult life, I thought myself immune or (in hindsight) maybe a little ignorant to its severity. It wasn’t until I jumped into a plunge pool on a recent coastal trip that I got a taste of what the fuss is all about.

The moment my body hit the water my muscles seized. Panicked, I tried swimming to the edge of the pool but with my limbs becoming rigid I found it harder than ever. Thankfully I made it out of the cold water and, after a couple of minutes wrapped in a towel, I was warm again.

For me, this was a valuable and interesting experience in a safe environment. But for many, as I’ve learnt in my first few weeks here at Mindfully Wired, cold water shock can be more serious.




Since starting at MWC I have been helping to run a project aiming to improve fishing safety in Cornwall. A little known fact is that fishing is one of the most dangerous professions in the UK, with an average of 6.44 fishermen dying every year in fishing related accidents. Last year (2018) six men lost their lives at sea, half of which were caused by vessels capsizing.

Once you enter the water, cold shock hits – and within as little as 4-10 minutes you become incapacitated. Yet despite the risks, many fishermen don’t use the advised safety equipment. I have learnt why, and their reasoning is not what I expected.

As in many traditional practises, superstition plays a significant role in fishing. Amongst the items, conditions, and symbols which have been blacklisted as ‘bad omens’ are Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) – or ‘lifejackets’.

According to a recent study, some fishermen believe wearing a lifejacket tempts fate, making them more likely to have an accident. As a result, many fishermen choose not to wear one. As well as this, many fishermen consider falling overboard fatal and would rather submit to a quick and swift death than prolong the ordeal by wearing a lifejacket.



In our latest fishing podcast episode about safety, a shellfisherman from Newlyn trialled three new lifejackets but didn’t like wearing any of them. He said that when he wore them it felt like he was wearing a ‘noose around his neck’ and they all gave him long-lasting back pains.

These were perhaps the most surprising of my lessons. Given my experience and the inability to swim properly in cold water I couldn’t imagine not wanting to wear a lifejacket.

Beliefs such as these have continued to persist despite the growing conversation around fishing safety. But, thanks to projects such as Seafood Cornwall Training that I have had the pleasure of working on, perceptions are changing.

In the last year major improvements to fishing safety have been made, with laws passed making it compulsory for all fishermen to wear PFDs. Boats under 10m are required to have an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) and fishermen are encouraged to wear PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons).

Alongside regulation changes, work is being done on the ground to encourage fishermen to practise drills and complete risk assessments so that they are ready and equipped for the dangers of the job. And through all this hard work, safety is being transformed from something rarely spoken about to an issue at the top of the fishing agenda.

More fishermen in Cornwall are wearing PFDs than ever before, and with that, their chances of surviving a man overboard emergency increasing twelve-fold.

In light of what I have learnt through both my personal and professional experiences, I have developed a heightened respect for the job that fishermen do. The dangers they face in their roles are very real and I am proud to be working on a project giving this the attention it deserves.



Have you experienced cold water shock? Let us know in the comments or on social media:

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