A DROWNED fisherman’s chances of survival would have been "significantly increased" if he had been using key safety measures when he fell overboard off Applecross late last year, a report into his death has revealed.
Alasdair Macleod (57), who was a well-known and liked community figure on the peninsula, died on November 20 after falling from his boat Varuna while out creel fishing.
His boat was spotted on rocks on Saint Island that afternoon with its engine still running, sparking a major search, and his body was found three weeks later at Staffin Bay on Skye.
A report published this week by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) concluded that Mr Macleod "did not routinely wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid" and likely fell overboard during the return journey to Varuna’s mooring at Poll Creadha.
It added that if he had worn a jacket, the speed with which a search was instigated meant his chances of survival would have been "significantly increased".
Mr Macleod had set off for a day’s fishing at around 9am on November 20 and, according to a notebook found aboard, spent that morning working three strings of creels over about two-and-a-half hours.
His vessel appeared on coastal radar on a number of occasions that day, registering changes in course at 1.48pm and around 2pm, turning 20 degrees to the south on the latter occasion.
Radar contact was lost at 2.05pm, and the vessel was spotted on the rocks just 10 minutes later by a passing helicopter.
Based on the manual nature of the course change at 1.48pm and small window before the helicopter spotted the boat onshore, the report concluded that Mr Macleod probably "fell overboard shortly before the boat ran aground".
It added that although there were no witnesses to the incident, the vessel’s creel shooting gate was not closed as the slot-in door had not been fitted before Varuna made its return journey – posing an "unnecessary hazard".
It also noted that Mr Macleod was not using a safety tether, he was not wearing a lifejacket or other buoyancy aid and did not use an alarm which might have alerted rescuers when he fell into the sea.
"On entering sea water at a temperature of 9C he would have suffered the extremely debilitating effects of cold shock," said the report. "If he had survived the cold shock, he would then have been subject to the rapid onset of cold incapacitation that would have impaired his ability to swim or tread water.
"While individual survival times in cold water vary, had Alasdair been wearing a personal flotation device, and given the speed with which a search was initiated, his chances of survival would have been significantly increased".
It added that current legislation does not require a personal locator beacon to be worn by fishermen, but that planned changes would bring that requirement into force.