The yacht was at sea in bad weather and the vessel was moving considerably in heavy seas. It was night-time and a deckhand went up onto the upper deck and then aloft to the mast deck to retrieve a flag. They were not wearing a life jacket or a safety harness with lifeline. Because they did not tell the bridge that they were going aloft, had they fallen overboard no-one would have known about it for some time. Luckily in this instance they were able to get back inside without incident.
Many vessels employ some form of access control to the upper decks at night and, especially, in bad weather. Requesting permission from the bridge is an effective verbal ‘permit to work’ system, even on yachts that have other monitoring systems such as CCTV at the access points. Going aloft carries further risks because of the presence of radars and other high-powered electronic equipment or moving devices.
It isn’t known why the deckhand took it upon themselves to recover the flag but they may have misunderstood a general direction to recover the flag as meaning ‘recover it immediately’, they may have wanted to be seen to react promptly to a direction or it may just have been an inexperienced crewmember not appreciating the risks of what they were about to do.
Human factors and other issues identified in this report
Local practices – Adherence to access control procedures will enable falling overboard or other incidents to be discovered much sooner.
Pressure – Beware of unwittingly conveying a time pressure when giving directions to junior crew members. Where they are in doubt, it is likely that they will seek clarification before doing something that could be hazardous?
Complacency (over confidence) – Safety protocols should be followed even for ‘quick’ tasks such as recovering a flag. In this incident, permit to work procedures were not followed and the correct PPE was not worn.
Culture – Although this incident relates to a crew member, would a guest be aware of access control procedures? How are they made aware on board your yacht?