Man overboard (on a yacht)!

5 February 2016
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Emergencies on board superyachts are, fortunately, few and far between; but major incidents involving such beautiful vessels quickly make headlines around the world – the Mail Online will testify to that.

Every Captain needs to know that his/her yacht is prepared for to deal with the worst and, with the increasing size and complexity of today’s superyachts, the use of pre-prepared emergency checklists is becoming much more common. These checklists will also help yacht managers when they have to explain the procedures that were in place to an aggressive media.

Ask yourself, would everyone on board know where to instantly set the lookouts if a Williamson turn was immediately implemented for a man overboard? And where are the hand held VHF sets they’ll need stored?

It is essential that crew members fully understand the purpose of emergency checklists and that they are tailored to the specifics of each yacht.

Like most codes and conventions from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Safety Management (ISM) Code is a practical set of requirements that can benefit Captains and superyacht crews in a very clear way.

  • It improves safety standards on board, contributing to a safer working environment.
  • It promotes pollution prevention which protects the marine environment.
  • It defines tasks and responsibilities which makes the crew job easier.

Although obviously written with bigger ships in mind, not superyachts, the ISM Code contains general guidelines on which the on board safety management system (SMS) should be based, and owners and yacht captains should have no problem in developing a SMS which is practical and which relates exactly to their particular vessel.

Yacht management companies, who operate a number of superyachts for different owners may  be pressured by yacht owners to operate each vessel in a unique manner which reflects the owner’s very specific tastes. Despite these pressures it is important that implementation of the ISM Code is taken seriously on board, particularly with regard to the implementation of the various checklists for emergencies.

The checklist’s purpose is to act as an essential aide-memoire to the Captain, officers and crew who are using them to ensure that absolutely nothing is forgotten, and that all necessary functions are fulfilled.

In our experience, during emergencies, on board pressure rises considerably and individuals start to focus on one task only rather than calmly ensuring their full raft of duties have been carried out. The tempo of radio communications rises as the adrenaline surges. Just remember the Italian Coastguard shouting at Captain Schettino of Costa Concordia fame to go back on board and assist in further rescues – later played out in Court for all the world to hear.

Captains and crew will have a huge range of questions and hypothetical scenarios playing out in their minds and a checklist will help them concentrate on the job at hand.

The media will quickly come chasing the Captain (or crew) for answers and in high-stress situations it is easy for Captains to presume they can remember and recount the steps taken in detail, however, once the adrenaline is gone and the situation is over, a Captain’s memory of the high-pressure situation may become hazy. The media will be keen to hear of every detail and will be just as keen to pick on any inconsistencies.

If an emergency checklist has been followed, then a much more confident yacht manager will be able to step out in front of the cameras and give some reassuring answers to the waiting press corps – a much better option than a dazed captain or crew member.

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