Career and Job Search Guide

Fisherman, Boat Captain and Vessel Operators

Fishers and boat captains who operation fishing boats retrieve fish and other water animal products from oceans, seas, lakes and rivers.

A crew consists of a captain, first mate, a boatswain, known as a deckboss on smaller ships, and laborers known as deckhands. These crew members are necessary to man a commercial fishing boat miles away from the harbor.

The captain supervises and coordinates all the activities on a fishing boat, including: planning the fishing trip by determining where to fish and what kind of fish to catch, the length of the trip, and the processing plants to sell the fish.

The captain is responsible for determining whether a boat is ready for sea travel, coordinates supply purchases, acquires the necessary permits, and selects a staff to work on the ship. Captains must also be familiar with navigation and sonar technology, such as GPS systems, so they can safely navigate the ship to its destined location and avoid any hazards. Sonar technology also aids captains as they scan the sea for fish. Captains are also responsible for keeping daily records onboard the ship by maintaining what is known as a ship's log. Upon returning to shore with fish, the captain must find buyers, usually contacting fish processing plants and wholesalers. However, many captains are selling their products directly to consumers and stores through the internet. The first mate works under the direction of the captain and becomes in-charge a ship if a captain is incapacitated or not on board. Since ships are usually at sea for days at a time, first mates assume command of a ship in 6 hour shifts known as duty shifts. However, the first mate's most important responsibility is to supervise the boatswain and the crew carrying out the fishing preparation and catching.

The boatswain supervises the deckhands since the boatswain is often a former deckhand with extensive experience. Before leaving the dock to fish, deckhands load the ship's cargo. Boatswains often repair damaged equipment, and they man the machines used to deploy nets into the water and extract fish. After fish have been caught, boatswains supervise the deckhands as they prepare fish to be stored onboard the ship. Deckhands must keep the deck clean and free of hazards and monitor engines to make sure they are functioning properly. Deckhands often unload ships except when longshore laborers perform this task. Huge fishing ships designed for deep sea operations are equipped with the latest technology while some have fish processing equipment onboard. These ships are designed to stay at seas for long periods of time.

Fishers also fish on smaller vessels in water that is usually not too deep. Crews on these ships are relatively small, sometimes 1-2 fishers. These fishers use nets to capture fish, boxes or traps to catch shellfish, and scrapes and dredges to collect scallops or oysters. Sometimes, fishers dive into water to place nets and other equipment designed to catch shellfish. Fishers on small boats utilize nets, hooks, shovels, and numerous other pieces of fishing equipment to catch fish, shellfish, turtles, frogs and marine planets like kelp and moss.

Most fishing professionals fish to catch fish to be sold, but many use their fishing knowledge to start companies that charter boats for people interested in sportfishing and recreation.

Work environment. Fishing is conducted in fog, sea storms, and wind, so commercial fishing can be very difficult and dangerous. During heavy storms and winds, boats are often required to return to shore. At fish processing plants with a lot of ship traffic, captains must be careful to avoid running into other ships.

Being a fisher is a very dangerous job. Likewise, if a fisher is sick or injured at sea, it may take some time before he or she can be treated. Crew members must constantly be aware of their surroundings to avoid falling overboard, getting injured, or slipping on the deck. Captains also face the danger of colliding with other ships when navigation equipment is damaged or not working properly.

Fishers work long days often in harsh conditions. Fishers usually spend weeks, or in some cases, months away from their homes. Deckhands attempt to finish all their work before arriving back to shore, but deckhands are required to perform occasional lookout watches. Fishing can be very physically exhausting even though technology has made fishing jobs easier and less tiring. Newer ships are often equipped with showers, TVs, and other modern living amenities, but fishers still live in small living quarters and spend a lot of time away from their families.