Operators of today’s superyacht super tenders need training, too

Dec 1, 2014 by Capt. Brian Luke

Long gone are the days of running passengers back and forth to the yacht in a 10-foot Achilles tender coupled to a motor-steered 30hp outboard. Our larger and more powerful tenders, often called super tenders, now approach 50 feet, almost half the length that once defined a large yacht.

Have you ever been asked to operate a vessel, with passengers, larger than your comfort level? As yacht tenders balloon in dimension, I now frequently overhear stories of deckhands asked to operate a tender much larger than they were comfortable, or competent, operating.

Even my own son, after being hired as a crew member, was asked to operate a high-tech tender in the 40-foot range without any training. He respectfully declined, not having had any experience handling vessels this large and complex.

My son made the correct decision from a safety standpoint, despite the fact that he lost his position onboard. He returned home feeling humiliated and with a sense of failure. I suspect that, for any number of reasons, not all crew members would make the same decision. Although inadequately trained and with little experience, some crew members may be lucky managing the big complex tender without major incident. Others will not be so fortunate.

Whether you get away with it or not does not make it safe or right. Yacht tender accidents are one of the most common causes of yacht crew injuries and fatalities.

The tender driver is responsible for safely transporting owners and guests to and from the superyacht during both day and night operations. Unfortunately, the current default certification, Power Boat Level 2, does not include night operations and is generally geared toward smaller, less complex tenders.

The PB 2 course is a good and necessary one. However, it is a course designed to give the student initial tender or small boat operation training and was never intended for high-horsepower, complex powerboat night operations so typical today.

These new super tenders have elicited much discussion within our industry. The RYA, in conjunction with the PYA, has developed a new Tender Operator Course. The course is designed to cover night and day operations. It also covers subjects such as, but not limited to, pre-departure procedures, super tender drive systems, lifesaving apparatus, passenger safety and comfort, day and night man over board (MOB), towing and being towed, IRPCS and passenger briefings.

The focus is on safe ship-to-shore transfers and vice versa, not coastal navigation. Designed to build upon existing knowledge and training acquired during PB 2, the course takes place over two days. Although there is a theory element, most of the course is designed as practical training.

The Tender Operator Course is a definitive step toward solving the super tender safety issue, but alone it is insufficient doing so if onboard leadership does not actively promote a safety culture. That includes tender operations.

On your current yacht, do the tender operators always use the kill cord? Do they wear lifejackets? Do you always follow the appropriate procedures for launching? If your answer is “no” to any one of these questions, then you may have an onboard leadership issue relating to safety.

Developing an onboard safety culture begins at the top and is paramount to running the new super tenders with a reduced risk of an adverse incident.

ISM-compliant vessels will incorporate onboard initial and recurrent tender training as part of its safety management system. If your vessel is not ISM compliant then developing similar systems will help. Even when a new, experienced crew member arrives, one should not assume their level of competence without onboard training first.

You wouldn’t join a yacht, especially if you are new or fairly new to the industry, and be expected to run the vessel on your own. Yet this is exactly what is happening with super tenders, not-so-small, powerful vessels in their own right that have the potential to spike the already high cause of yacht crew injuries and fatalities.

Safe super tender operations requires a heightened awareness and culture of overall safety, along with attention to the specific training that has been developed to help keep you at your safest and keep your career on course.

Capt. Brian Luke is chief operations officer for International Crew Training in Ft. Lauderdale. He is an airline captain and holds a USCG 1600/3000-ton master’s ticket. ICT trains crew for entry-level through 3000 ITC Master licenses, engineering and interior operations. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.