The harbor is packed; summer dredging season at its peak; and together the Nome harbor staff and the U.S. Coast Guard are working to get vessels into safer condition.
Now through Thursday August 7, the Coast Guard will be conducting dockside safety examinations for dredging vessels. The examinations are free and voluntary with the goal of getting as many operations as possible up to Coast Guard safety regulation.
Coast Guard Lt. Tom Pauser will be running the exams. “I have a list that I’m going to explain with each mariner,” Pauser said, “display numbers, their registrations, life jackets, visual distress signals, flares, and the list goes down.”
Pauser said the examinations are intended to educate mariners on what they can do to meet safety compliance. For that reason, mariners will not receive penalties or fines during the inspections for any unmet safety standards.
But the examinations happen dockside. Any vessel boarded on the water not meeting requirements could receive a violation.
“So when they say these are voluntary, they’re not going to come and say, ‘Hey, I see something wrong. Now you get a fine,’” said Nome Harbormaster Lucas Stotts. “These are so you have an opportunity to fix those problems and get steered in the right direction, so later in the year or at any time you can operate in the safest manner. And that way, when their enforcement folks come up, you’ll be ready for them.”
Stotts said one of the most common safety violations in Nome waters is vessels not carrying enough lifejackets—one for every passenger— and mariners not wearing them.
“We have people fall overboard all the time,” said Stotts. “We just had a guy the other day fall overboard— half hour in the water. And he was wearing a PFD [personal flotation device], or he probably would have drown.”
Another common violation Pauser said is mariners not registering their vessels with the DMV.
Stotts said the number of dredges this year is lower than last year, but the sizes of the operations are bigger. The amount of fishing vessels has remained consistent. Meanwhile, other vessels like cargo, research, and fuel are up in number as interest in the Arctic escalates.
Overall Stotts said the harbor is more jam-packed than ever. With less room and more activity, safety inspections act as preventative measures to reduce instances and emergencies in an area already stretched to capacity.
Commenting on the shift, Stotts said, “Nome got hit with this increase in mining activity fairly recently and fairly fast, so the port and the City are both going through their growing pains, trying to keep up with the demand from our user base.”
The voluntary safety inspections are occurring now through Thursday August 7. They are being offered to dredges and commercial fishing vessels. Call the Nome harbor at 907-443-6619 to schedule an appointment.