A fouled anchor

A super yacht, while weighing, found her anchor fouled.  While she was operating propulsion at very slow speed, a crew member jumped into the water, climbed onto the anchor to clear the fouled line, and was then recovered as the yacht gathered way.

What did the reporter tell us?

A crew member was seen on the starboard side standing on a ledge just above the waterline with no lifejacket or safety harness visible; he was hanging on to a single line from above.  He balanced there for some time, before jumping into the sea and swimming up to the bow.  He then climbed onto the anchor.  The foredeck crew then continued raising the anchor whilst the man was busily working to clear the fouled rope.

Once he had cleared the anchor, he jumped back into the sea, drifting back down the starboard side of the yacht which was underway at slow speed. He was then recovered on board; the vessel departed.


Note man on starboard quarter platform

Note man on starboard quarter platform

What did the vessel’s management tell us?   The vessels’s management were grateful that CHIRP had forwarded the report, and outlined a reactive process of which the aim is to ensure that health and safety awareness is improved onboard, that such unnecessary risks are not taken in future, and that a comprehensive drill is in place in the event of future fouled anchors.

The lessons to be learnt

 The day was sunny; the conditions fair.  Obviously a fouled anchor was not in the plan; so it is easy to visualise a quick reaction to the situation without proper safety arrangements in place.

The hazards are clear. A particularly serious one is entanglement in the fouled line while the man was attempting to clear it from the anchor to which he himself was clinging. It is not obvious whether the line was under tension or whether it was light or heavy.  However a sudden increase or release in tension could have had the man trapped under water or potentially towed astern near the propellers.  The vessel was operating propulsion at the time.  It is not clear whether the man on the anchor was continuously supervised or not.  He certainly should have been; it is very unlikely that he was visible from the bridge.  He was not wearing a life jacket and did not have a lifeline/harness other than the line onto which it is reported he was hanging.  These are severe safety lapses.

All was well, but it might not have been: a classic near miss in a realm of seafaring where the relatively relaxed routines of recreational boating in good weather can start to dilute the procedures necessary in larger vessels.   Was an operational risk assessment undertaken?

An operational risk assessment

In urgent situations, an abbreviated but considered risk assessment against a check list can be undertaken.  Its key elements include:

  • The aim. How necessary is its achievement?
  • The hazards; likelihood and severity of potential harm
  • Who may it harm?
  • How may it be done to minimise risk?
  • How may unavoidable risk be mitigated?
  • Preparedness in the event of harm
  • AND AGAIN – HOW NECESSARY? Pause/consider. Don’t get overtaken by the rush of the moment.

The vessel’s management has responded positively to CHIRP; their comments are welcome.  They outline a comprehensive procedure which will be employed in future cases of fouled anchors.  This procedure will include provision of a rescue boat (all crew donning life jackets), stationing of two crew members at the bow (for the anchor winch and to observe the boat), and VHF communications between boat, bow and bridge.  The procedure will engage one tender crewman in release of the fouled line (ensuring it is not electrical) while the other manoeuvres. If this approach does not achieve the aim, boat and crew will be recovered, the anchor let go again, and commercial diver assistance sought.

 CHIRP suggests

 Maintain professional standards; this depends on safety culture which itself in turn depends on the lead given by the Master and officers.  Carry out a risk assessment and briefing before taking action in unusual circumstances; these may be short and crisp if need be, provided they are considered and conducted against a check-list (see above).  Guard against cutting corners when the atmosphere is relaxed.  Remember key safety principles: for example the wearing of life jackets always in exposed places, life lines, provision of a safety boat and supervision of risky work.  Remember ubiquitous risks at sea: for example lines under tension, drowning.