Choosing a career at sea imposes many images of worldwide travel, unlimited adventure, and a never-boring day at work.
While those positives are what drew many of us to her calling, the sea also provides an equally dangerous working environment. Ironically, the majority of these hazardous situations are a result of the weakest link in the safety chain, us humans.
Based upon investigations completed by the world’s major maritime agencies, it can be concluded that most accidents are due to noncompliance with regulations and procedures.
Some examples of this noncompliance include:
1. Ships and yachts going to sea without properly securing their hatches or doors;
2. Hatch covers and openings so poorly maintained and deteriorated as to cause their failure;
3. Ships and yachts being loaded in such an unsafe manner as to cause them to damage their structures or capsize due to lack of stability; and
4. Ships and yachts being navigated too close to shoals or submerged rocks such that a slight deviation will result in grounding.
These examples not only point to noncompliance with rules and regulations, but they also point to a lack of proficiency and training. They emphasize a need for intensified efforts to address the human element in our industry. While various conventions and requirements have addressed the hardware aspect of marine safety, we must continue to develop the tools to address the software aspect of it, including that of the human element.
Fortunately, we have a sound starting point with the implementation of the STCW Code and the ISM Code. While these two particular codes are minimum standards, through the establishment of a comprehensive system to ensure competence and a process to ensure safe practices, safety of operations and navigation can be enhanced.
We know that operating a yacht is not just about having knowledge of the equipment and systems, but also, we must execute this knowledge properly. The operator must demonstrate his competence before he is licensed to operate.
STCW ensures that the seafarer is properly trained and certified competent to operate the yacht. With STCW, we expect there to be sufficient training, proficient trainers, and proper certification processes to make certain that the seafarers leaving the training institution are competent to serve onboard.
Moreover, while onboard, we expect the seafarer to acquire the appropriate on-the-job training experience before he can assume responsible positions. It provides the owner with a tool to guarantee that his operators have achieved the minimum level of competence to operate his yacht safely.
However, solely being certified to STCW is not a guarantee of being qualified to do the job. That comes with experience.
We all know, too, that shipboard and shoreside management are complex operations that cover a range of factors from manning to operating machinery and systems. The operator must know what procedures to follow to ensure the safety of his yacht.
The ISM Code was established to promote a safety culture in the shipping and yachting community, both among the seafarers and at the shoreside office. It requires the promulgation of documented instructions and procedures for the safe operation of a yacht. It defines levels of authority and lines of communication between the yacht and the office ashore. And it provides for the reporting of nonconformities and hazardous occurrences.
Similar to management systems in other industries such as aerospace and manufacturing, the ISM Code requires the completion of internal and external safety audits to verify compliance. In essence, the ISM Code ensures that procedures are in place and practiced on board and ashore.
With the ISM Code, we expect every yacht to have the appropriate procedures and documentation to enable it to operate safely, and that someone on board is in charge and responsible for the implementation of these safety practices. It gives the owner a second tool to enable him to enhance the quality of operations. It ensures that processes are in place and implemented.
In the course of our company’s work as flag-state inspectors, International Yacht Bureau has come across yacht managers, for instance, who were only interested in maintaining the ship’s certificates for the purpose of marketing, while the equipment and standards on board were below that required under the relevant conventions.
What is more worrying is that some of this equipment is essential, such as navigational charts, nautical publications, life saving appliances, and firefighting equipment.
We have also come across individuals who have obtained seagoing jobs, having obtained their CoCs, without going through proper training or appropriate sea time. These seafarers are dangerous, not only to others but also to themselves, the yacht, and the environment. When they cannot complete their responsibilities to the minimum standards, they are perpetrating a false sense of safety.
There are many practices on board that require compliance with certain procedures; and these operational procedures are there for a purpose. When reviewing the investigation reports from various flag states, we see particular trends that affect both merchant ships and yachts:
1. Shipboard operations had not been properly planned, and if planned, were not executed according to the plans.
2. In grounding incidents, captains had not prepared comprehensive passage plans and their charts had not been corrected to date. In some cases, the captains had not referred to the charts and instead navigated by memory.
3. In cases related to machinery, there had been a poorly planned maintenance schedule. In most cases, the maintenance had not been completed according to the planned schedule or at the required intervals.
There have been many lessons learned and conclusions from inquiries and investigations of maritime accidents relating to onboard practices. As an industry, it is critical that each of us shows a commitment to safety — not just rhetoric but demonstrated and real.
Furthermore, there must be a proper implementation of the rules and regulations. Simply placing copies of the rules on board or referring to a set of notebooks buried somewhere on the shelf will not do. Yachting cannot leave safety to chance. If we do not regulate ourselves, someone else will do it for us.
Capt. Jake DesVergers serves as chief surveyor for the International Yacht Bureau (IYB), which provides flag-state inspection services to yachts on behalf of several flag-state administrations. A deck officer graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as master on merchant ships, acted as designated person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society. Contact him at 954-596-2728 or www.yachtbureau.org.