A report detailing an incident where a wilful failure to fully comply with a safety briefing led to an injury to a passenger.
What the reporter told us:
I am the skipper of a Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) which offers tours of the local area to observe the wildlife, fauna and flora. We give a thorough safety briefing prior to departure. On this particular occasion, our passengers were advised several times before the trip began and in the safety briefing on board, to sit toward the back of the boat as it was more stable.
We left the port in relatively calm conditions (sea state 2), travelling at a slow speed of 5 knots. As we approached the sandbar at the edge of the estuary there was an increase of swell to 1–2 feet due to the shallower conditions.
When we were almost over the sandbar, the last wave was much steeper / sharper so we slowed down just as the wave approached. Both passengers stood up as we travelled over the wave, resulting in one of them slamming back down onto the seat with force.
The boat was immediately stopped. The crew went to check on the passenger, who appeared to be in a dazed state and was complaining of sore lower back muscles. The skipper drove very slowly back into the bay, and the crewmember remained with the passenger making sure she was squeezing her hands and moving her toes. She was kept warm with blankets and was not moved. Following a VHF call to the operations base in the marina, an ambulance was called. Roughly 5 minutes after arriving back at the pontoon, a paramedic arrived. Following an examination, the patient was advised that the pain was just sore lower back muscles and to take some pain relief and to go home and rest.
There should be a greater emphasis on customers staying seated at all times during the trip
In further discussion between CHIRP and the reporter the following points were made;
- It was confirmed that the injuries sustained were simply diagnosed as muscular.
- The crew of the RHIB quite rightly gave basic treatment for shock and potentially serious spinal injury.
- It was agreed that the learnings could be applicable to any RHIB operation and indeed many other activities within the leisure sector where passengers are involved.
- There was uncertainty as to why the two passengers, who were in their early 70’s, decided to stand up since they were told several times throughout the trip to remain seated at all times.
- It was emphasised that briefings are conducted prior to the excursions, and on slightly rougher weather days this includes suggesting that the excursion could be postponed to a calmer day. In this particular case the advice was given to postpone, but they insisted on going because they were a “fit couple”.
Having discussed this report the Maritime Advisory Board commented that the operator’s concern as to “What do we need to do better in order to prevent this from happening again?” is both commendable and very valid. In a wider context, spinal injuries can be severe and the passengers in this case were fortunate that the end result was simply bruising.
In all operations involving passengers, their safety must be given the highest priority. CHIRP considers that there are potential additions to the safety briefing that may reinforce the request to remain seated. Firstly, a notice at the boarding point requiring passengers to remain seated. Although simple, the word “required” carries a completely different weight than requested. Additionally, where practicable, a notice on the rear of the seats, or on athwartships seating may be beneficial. Both of these steps would reinforce the safety briefing(s). The possibility of the passenger signing a waiver was discussed but eventually it was thought that, from a passenger perspective, this would involve signing a piece of paper (with a lot of legal terminology) as opposed to fully reinforcing the danger.
A more difficult assessment may be to determine a passengers’ suitability to undertake the trip under the prevailing weather conditions, or a company decision as to the weather being sufficiently inclement to postpone the trip. This is subtly different from a passenger stating that they are fit to undertake the trip. It may impact upon commercial considerations but does provide another level of safety.
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has several reports related to RIB’s and perhaps the most relevant to this report is 10-2017 involving a collision between two RIB’s resulting in serious injuries to one passenger. The report highlights other incidents and gives information on published guidance and regulations. Spinal injuries are also discussed in the report, as are safety briefings.