Safety in exposed places

What did the reporters tell us?

FAILURE TO DON A LIFEJACKET DURING A SEAMANSHIP EVOLUTION. This report concerns a commercial yacht (2000 GT). The yacht’s tender was to be moved away while the yacht shifted her anchorage berth, after a deterioration in the weather. The Mate decided to move the tender himself, and boarded her without a lifejacket. A crewman noticed the error, and a lifejacket was then worn; but not before the Chief Mate had boarded the tender in a 1.5 – 2 metre swell. Wind Force 6. Extracts from the information passed to CHIRP. ‘Whilst the vessel was at anchor … the decision was made to move to a different anchorage around the headland … Before we could move, the tender which was located at the stern needed to be moved alongside so that it can be boarded and moved away whilst the vessel hauled anchor. 4 crew were present for the task to be completed and the Chief Mate explained what we were going to do. Once the tender was alongside the Chief Mate decided that he would board the tender and move away. The pilot ladder was to be used for boarding on the starboard side. The Chief Mate forgot to put on a lifejacket whilst he was holding on the pilot ladder waiting to board the tender which was riding up and down these 1.5 – 2 metre waves. Once onboard the tender one of the deck crew shouted to him that he needed a lifejacket whilst in the tender in this swell. One of the lifejackets located in the tender was used during the short passage around the headland’.

The lessons to be learnt

learnt Seafarers with experience under sail have a good saying: ‘the time to reef is the first time you think of it’. All too often, for reasons which are easy to imagine (laziness, urgency to get the job done, complacency, lack of imagination, lack of experience, shortage of crew), this doesn’t happen. Very much the same applies to anchorages; if you start to think an anchorage may be becoming untenable, it almost certainly is. This incident arose from a need to shift berth in worsening weather; it may well be that it would have never occurred if the move had been done earlier. Equally it may be that, when the need arose, there was urgency and limited time for planning. Thus the Mate, perhaps lacking a spare hand while the Yacht weighed, felt he needed to move the tender away himself. There is a sense of rush; the tender must have been moving fairly heavily against the yacht, but the Chief Mate boarded without his lifejacket. This was certainly hazardous. A procedure should be in place. On the other hand there are signs of a positive safety culture in this account. A crewman felt confident enough to alert the Chief Mate, pointing out his error; and the Chief Mate responded. If there had been a generally lax culture, it may well be that neither would have happened.

CHIRP Suggests

Act EARLY in unexpected circumstances or worsening conditions. Most seafarers have slowed down too late in worsening weather, pressed on when he or she shouldn’t have, weighed too late as an anchorage starts to become untenable, or (in a sailing ship) reefed too late. Many accidents and near misses at sea could be avoided by acting early. This does three things: a) it allows time for considered planning and execution without rush; b) it avoids the need to cut corners; and c) it minimises the need to do things in marginal or dangerous conditions. If urgent or emergency actions must be taken, keep cool, remember drills, and apply safety procedures. In other words, even in difficult conditions, proceed deliberately to the maximum extent possible. Promote a positive safety culture. There is a clear sign of a positive culture in this vessel, even if an initial mistake was made. Culture comes from the top; if standards are reviewed, explained, and followed as a matter of course throughout a vessel, they will be maintained and respected. The opposite is true. If the ‘don’t bother about that’ culture is tolerated for a moment by the leadership, it will become the norm. The UK COSWP for Merchant Seafarers 2015 is crucial and readable on this vital subject. See the extract overleaf.


What does a


look like?

Extensive research has identified certain elements that contribute greatly to maintaining a safe working culture.

These can be described as:

clearly defined expectations;

good communications;

clear leadership;

good planning;

risk awareness;


good safety culture; and

effective knowledge

These elements should be both put in place at a Company level within the safety management system and implemented on board the vessel by the master and crew. It is important that the entire workforce, from the most junior crew members through to the senior managers ashore, are involved in the development of these elements for them to be fully successful.