Secure at Sea: Training must be specific to yacht, crew

Jun 19, 2019 by Corey D. Ranslem

Secure@Sea: by Corey Ranslem

Our daily underway routine was constant on board the Coast Guard cutter. Each day, right after lunch, we did drills and training for just about every type of possible scenario on board: fire, flooding, security issues, migrants, mass casualty incidents and several others. The training became a big part of my routine in the Coast Guard that I’ve carried into civilian life as well.

Throughout the past year we’ve discussed several security-related issues in this column, including security planning. One important aspect we haven’t covered is the security-related training plan. Most boats are now gearing up or steaming toward the Med for the summer charter season. Long transits and in-between guest charters are the best times to conduct drills and training, especially when it comes to security and safety.

A number of organizations offer training to large-yacht crews, but very few companies offer, or have the expertise to offer, a true security-related training program. That is because each training program needs to be tailored specifically to the vessel, crew and overall capabilities – and it doesn’t need to be a big plan. However, a good plan and associated training program can help save lives when things go sideways.

The ISPS plan or most government/flag-state-required, security-related plans don’t contain a lot of detail when it comes to dealing with security-related situations or how to put together a shipboard training program to test those capabilities, unless the vessel adds those details to the plan. As we’ve discussed in past columns, it is a great idea to have a confidential security plan for the yacht that details how the crew will deal with various situations, including piracy events, stowaways, people attempting to board the vessel in port and at anchor, migrants at sea, and general security watch procedures. The first step is to develop or work with a trusted provider in developing a basic plan of how to deal with these major situations. There is some crossover with ISM and ISPS/MTSA, but you should aim to exceed what is required when developing an actual plan based on your boat, crew and capabilities.

The security-related training program and scenarios should be realistic, based on where the boat is located and your typical routes and charter operations. Develop a few different potential scenarios you are likely to encounter. For instance, if you are chartering in the Southern Mediterranean, there is a possibility you will encounter migrants at sea. Conduct a training drill based on encountering a migrant boat. This type of training would be more of a galley “tabletop” discussion, but it is still great to get an idea of what your crew is thinking. Bring your plan for dealing with this situation and talk through that plan with the crew so that everyone understands their responsibility.

As part of that plan, test your emergency or shore-side DPA, or other notification systems and communications. Shore-side support is critical to your mission and needs to be a part of the training. This will help test their capabilities, to give you confidence that they will actually be able to help in different situations and that you have the correct phone numbers and points of contact. I recently worked with a captain who was involved in a boat fire at sea. He called everyone on his call sheets during the emergency and nobody answered. This wasn’t his fault, as his shore-side support didn’t realize their importance to the vessel operations.

Some security-related training scenarios can, and should be, more hands-on. An example would be the situation of dealing with a stowaway by having someone play the role of the stowaway – especially if you can get someone outside the crew, someone they don’t know. This will give you an idea of how long it would take the crew to detect a stowaway and how they would react. The scenario should be as realistic as possible.

Finally, try training for multiple situations at once. Events don’t typically happen independent of each other, and resources aboard a yacht can become quickly consumed.

Corey Ranslem, CEO at International Maritime Security Associates (, has more than 24 years of combined Coast Guard and maritime industry experience. Comments are welcome below.

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