If you are a fan of the hit reality series “Deadliest Catch,” there is a good chance you’d ask, “how many crab boats have sunk in the Bering Sea?” Media outlets only reported four crab boats that have sunk in this perilous section of the North Pacific.
However, our in-depth research revealed there could be as many as 47 crab boats that have sunk in these waters. Please keep reading.
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The Numbers: Are They Accurate?
Alaskan waters are some of the most treacherous bodies of water on the planet, with the Bering Sea being the most dangerous. Although the waters are shallow, volatile weather is the most common culprit why a crab boat sinks.
The number of crab boat sinking incidents that were severe enough to receive media coverage so far is four. However, if you also take into account lesser-known cases, the number would skyrocket to at least 47 cases.
Pinning down the exact number is nearly impossible due to the following reasons:
- Some skippers disregard the regulation that boat captains must report to authorities when a crab boat is missing.
Lack of enforcement can also be an issue. Boat captains who fail to report a crab boat missing will not incur penalties because authorities do not enforce it.
- Crab boats may not send distress signals while in trouble, as was the case with the Destination crab boat crew. This makes it even harder to locate the location of the shipwreck and potential survivors.
- The Bering Sea covers more than 876,000 square miles. Monitoring every single vessel in these waters is next to impossible.
- Another cause of data discrepancy is prevailing media attitudes toward “boating accidents.”
For example, an unknown crab boat capsized off Saint Paul Island in the Bering Sea without casualties will not gain media coverage. Compare that to a fishing vessel lost in the waters off Saint George with all hands lost. Media outlets will be in a frenzy.
The boat’s popularity and/or the involvement of Deadliest Catch film crews are also significant factors in media coverage. For example, one of the most intriguing crab boat cases is the Destination sinking north-northwest of Saint George Island in the Bering Sea on February 11th, 2017.
That said, although no Deadliest Catch film crew was ever onboard the FV Big Valley crab boat, this vessel’s sinking in the Bering Sea also gained media attention. Overloading led to the boat’s foundering, taking five lives with it and leaving a lone survivor.
Crab Boats That Have Sunk in the Bering Sea
The worst fishing accidents we noted were a three-way tie between Altair (Feb 14, 1983), Americus (Feb 16, 1983), and Pacesetter (Jan 27, 1996). All crab boats lost seven crew without survivors.
Coming in at the second spot, with six souls lost, is another three-way tie between Destination (Feb 11, 2017), Northwest Mariner (Jan 15, 1995), and Saint George (Jan 5, 1992).
Here is a list of the crab boats that have sunk in the Bering Sea. Unlike other resources, we did not include incidents in the Gulf of Alaska.
|Crab Boat Name||Date Sunk||Location of Sinking||No. of Survivors||No. of Lives Lost||Cause of Sinking|
|Alaskan Pride||7 Feb 1993||90 miles NW of Unimak Island||7||0||Swamping|
|Altair||14 Feb 1983||Between Dutch Harbor and Pribilof Islands||0||7||Overloading and fuel distribution|
|Americus||16 Feb 1983||25 miles NNW of Dutch Harbor||0||7||Instability due to overloading|
|Barbarossa||10 Feb 1991||40 miles W of St. George Island||0||6||Unknown (14-foot seas and 30-knot winds)|
|Big Valley||15 Jan 2005||78 miles W of St. Paul Island||1||5||Instability due to overloading|
|Bristol Storm||4 Nov 1996||Northwest of Port Moller||6||0||Weld joint crack leading to flooding|
|Capella||29 Mar 1980||Between Fox and Deer Islands||1||4||Rock collision and bad weather|
|Cordova||5 May 1995||85 miles N of Cold Bay||4||0||Flooding due to the anchor punching through the crab boat’s bow|
|Destination||11 Feb 2017||NNW of Sr. George Island||0||6||Freezing spray, making the crab boat top-heavy|
|Eagle||31 Oct-1 Nov 1980||40 miles off Pribilof Islands||All hands||0||Starboard list|
|Flyboy||27 Feb 1983||Off Akutan Island||2||1||Unknown|
|Foremost||4 May 1977||75 miles east-southeast of St. George Island||5||0||Uncontrolled rolling|
|Golden Viking||1 Sept 1983||9 miles S of St Matthew Island||4||2||Rough weather|
|Harvey G||22 Nov 1991||100 miles N of Cold Bay||0||4||Unknown|
|Hellion||23 Nov 1979||Between Dutch Harbor and Beaver Inlet||0||3||20-foot swells and 70-knot winds|
|Holy Cross||16 Feb 1992||Near Pribilof Islands||5||0||Flooding|
|Jamie Lynn||21 Apr 1987||90 miles N of Dutch Harbor||0||3||Unknown|
|Jody Ann||25 Feb 1994||Northwest of Saint Paul Island||5||0||Swamping|
|King & Winge||23 Feb 1994||22 miles W of St Paul Island||4||0||Flooding and instability due to generator failure|
Frequently Asked Questions
How often do boats sink?
At least 24 large ships go missing or are believed to have sunk yearly. This figure puts the average at about two vessels every month. However, it does not include small watercraft, which can increase the number.
How many crab boats sink a year?
We do not have the actual figures for this. However, the estimate for fishing vessels lost in Alaska’s unforgiving waters is 35, not including private vessels. You might have the largest crab boat in the fleet, but that does not guarantee you are safe from the ocean’s freezing sprays, 20-foot-plus swells, and 50-knot-plus winds.
What are some Deadliest Catch boats that have sunk in the Bering Sea?
FV Destination is one of the Deadliest Catch boats that have sunk, together with FV Big Valley (Jan 15th, 2005), Scandies Rose (Dec 31st, 2019), and others without a film crew onboard.
Was there any survivor on the Destination crew?
Was the crab boat Destination crew found? Unfortunately, all six souls went to the Bering Sea’s bottom with FV Destination.
An NTSB official partly blamed the captain of the Destination crab boat, Jeff Hathaway, for the sinking. The officer said Hathaway’s decision to sail in “heavy freezing spray conditions” without ensuring vessel stability contributed to a preventable disaster.
Is the crab boat Northwestern still active?
Yes. In fact, this crabber is one of the most successful in Alaska’s most treacherous waters, hauling Blue King, Tanner, Red Kin, and Opilio crab season after season. Thanks to the skipper Sig Hansen and his crews, the scenario where the crab boat Northwestern sinks has never happened.
Determining how many crab boats have sunk in the Bering Sea is not as straightforward as it sounds. Incidents with extensive media coverage put the number at four. However, archives place the toll at 47, at least.
We say “at least” because the archives can also be inaccurate. For example, we did not find Destination and Scandies in the “shipwreck list.” Hence, we can safely assume there could be more crab boats at the bottom of the Bering Sea than we could ever imagine.
Read more: Cost of a crab boat.
Ten years of enjoying countless trips on boats never made me love them any less! So I am here to put all those experiences into good use for other boaters who want to have a safe and fun trip with their friends and families.