Safety Information

VIMS ESL has both a Safety Committee and a Vessel Operations Committee.  The primary mission of the ESL Safety Committee is to promote a safe working environment for all staff, students, and visiting users at the VIMS Eastern Shore Lab. Our goal is to promote environmental stewardship, protect health, inclusiveness, and ensure safe working practices within the ESL community. 

The vessel operations committee consists of licensed vessel operators and handles safety issues within our marine operations, following the VIMS Vessel Operation, Training, and Safety Policy with an addendum specific to ESL conditions: 

Unless specifically cleared for vessel operations by the Vessel Committee and Director of the ESL, all vessel operations out of ESL will utilize ESL Staff vessel operators.

During the planning process for a visit to ESL, our staff work with visiting personnel to gather information about the project goals and needs, and any special circumstances or accommodations that may be necessary. Our Lab hosts a wide range of students and researchers who often share common work areas, and the staff’s primary mission is to ensure safe, efficient, and inclusive work environment so that project goals can be successfully met.

Any persons new to ESL are required to attend a safety meeting covering lab and field safety, including "Right To Know" about workplace risks, given by one of our staff members. This meeting will be tailored to the project’s specific needs based on the information provided about the project. These briefings include a tour of the campus facilities and introduction to staff so that contacts are made and approachable with any problems that might arise.

Prior to all vessel operations, field crews muster at the point of departure and receive an additional safety briefing specific to marine operations and field safety, and a briefing on the day’s activities.

 First Aid Training and EMS

  • All Vessel operators and field team leaders will be first aid, CPR, and AED certified.
  • First aid kits and emergency equipment are inspected regularly and maintained on all ESL vessels.
  • ESL staff are members of the Wachapreague Volunteer Fire Department with direct access to Emergency medical system information and response.
  • The US Coast Guard maintains a station in Wachapreague near the lab and can also respond to emergency situations.

Field Hazards

While at the Eastern Shore Laboratory campus of VIMS, including all buildings (except inside overnight residence buildings) and on any vessel or during field work off campus, all personnel shall wear footwear that completely covers the foot up to the ankle, made of material that offers protection against lacerations or objects dropped on your foot. This is a zero-tolerance policy.

Physical Hazards: Walking in deep silty muds in some intertidal areas can be exhausting and getting stuck can be disconcerting to the point of anxiety.  Vessel operators, field team leaders, and field crews are advised to watch each other in field and provide assistance as necessary for this and any other hazards that arise.

Sunburn: All field crews are recommended to carry and use sunscreen, hats and/or SPF protective clothing as needed.

Heatstroke/Sunstroke: All field crews are recommended to carry water and other beverages to stay hydrated while working in the field.  Hats are recommended for both sun and heat protection.  Persons experiencing heat stress will be attended to in the field and transported back to the lab.

Insects: Mosquitos, Gnats, Deerflies, Greenheads, Horseflies, and Sand/dog flies are all common in the coastal habitats.  All vessels carry Benedryl; field crew members known to be allergic to insect bites are recommended to carry an Epipen.  Insect repellent and mesh bug suits are provided as needed.

Dangerous Marine Life: Blue crabs with pinching claws are common, we can show you how to handle them to avoid crushed or cut fingers.  Oyster shells are common, and have very sharp edges that cut skin easily and can lead to infections.  Sting rays encountered during sampling are handled by vessel operators or field team leaders to clip the barbs prior to any further handling.  All field crews wading in water are advised to move with the “stingray shuffle” to avoid stepping on and scaring a stingray into whipping its barb into action.  Any sharks encountered are also handled by Vessel operator or field team leaders.  Stinging jelly fish may be encountered, skin suits are recommended for in water activity where they are known to be common.  All vessels have first aid on board for these marine hazards.

Field Safety Plan

All vessel operations at VIMS ESL require a float plan that covers safety inspections, location(s) of activity, ship to shore and EMS contact information, and names of vessel operators and field crews.


All VIMS William & Mary staff, faculty and student workers are required by policy to complete the following training: (i) Campus Security Authorities: Roles and Responsibilities; (ii) William & Mary Security Awareness Training; (iii) Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging; (iv) Annual Emergency Management Training; (v) Title IX and Reporting; (vi) W&M Security Education & Awareness Cyber Security 2020; (vi) Sexual Harassment training with William & Mary; (vii) Active Shooter Response Training.

In addition, VIMS William & Mary has a robust policy system designed to enforce the expectations for a safe and healthy work environment. Beyond required training and commitment, extensive resources are available as presented on the W&M website for Diversity and Inclusion:, including access to resources for managing and responding to Diversity, equity and inclusion issues:


Reporting Options and Resources

William & Mary prohibits discrimination, including discriminatory harassment and discriminatory retaliation.  This website, which is an Appendix to the Discrimination, Discriminatory Harassment, and Retaliation Policy and the Employee Discrimination, Discriminatory Harassment, Retaliation and Sexual Misconduct Complaint Procedure, provides information about:

For information focused on sexual assault and sexual harassment, visit W&M's Title IX website or W&M's Sexual Violence website.