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What is Safety of Life at Sea?

Updated: Feb 16


Aerial view of a yacht in the ocean going in a circular motion and creating a spiral trail of waves and bubbles

Sea Safety

Choosing a life at sea means choosing a life of travel and adventure. Having the opportunity to live on a superyacht and be so close to the water is an amazing way to live. However, the ocean can be dangerous and must be respected at all times. Safety is the top priority for all seafarers. Superyachts are arguably some of the safest vessels on the water. The wealthiest people in the world want to know that they are safe, and they have the money to ensure it. Superyachts operate with large budgets and often have the latest and greatest safety equipment on board. However, the equipment is only half the story; the crew is the other half.


Superyacht crew must be qualified and trained to use all the safety equipment efficiently and effectively. All crew must have their STCW, which covers basic safety training. Your STCW forms the foundation of your safety training.


There are a number of regulations and requirements for vessels to ensure they are operating in the safest possible manner. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) sets the standard for the safety and security of seagoing vessels. Superyachts carry out a number of checks, drills, and audits to ensure they are complying with the regulations around safety.


Drills keep crew STCW training fresh, help familiarise crew with safety equipment on board, and ensure that if an emergency should occur, the actions to take are like muscle memory. Each crew member's duties in an emergency have to be clearly detailed on a muster-list. On top of this, weekly and monthly checks are carried out on all safety equipment. The most practised emergency drills on board Superyachts are Man-Overboard (MOB), Fire, Abandon Ship, and Collision.



Man-Overboard (MOB):

A man-overboard is when a person has fallen off the boat into the water. Time is of the essence; trying to see someone in the water is like looking for a watermelon in the water because all you can see is their head. If a MOB occurs, the first thing to do is to notify the bridge. The bridge can then mark their position, notify vessels in the area, and begin the onboard procedure of search and rescue. On deck, the crew will begin launching the rescue boat, which will be used to search and rescue the MOB.


‘Prevention is always better than cure’; whenever the boat is underway crew should be mindful of the sea state. Never lean over capping rails or do anything else to put yourself in a situation where you could fall over the side. It is also a good idea to wear a life jacket and carry a radio.



Fire:

A fire at sea is arguably the worst thing that can happen to a yacht. A $300 Million Superyacht, with 100,000 litres of fuel onboard, tends to go up quite quickly. And there aren't too many fire departments in the middle of the ocean. The crew needs to operate efficiently to seal off compartments onboard, manage ventilation, use the correct fire extinguishers, set up fire hoses, get fire teams ready, and potentially attack the fire. Should a fire ever occur, it is unlikely that the fire team will be deployed.


Superyachts tend to have the latest and greatest fixed firefighting systems out there, which in my experience is Hi-Fog. Hi-Fog operates similarly to sprinkler heads except instead of dispersing water like a shower, it disperses high-density fog. Hi-Fog systems are extremely effective; however, should there be a problem with the Hi-Fog system, the onboard fire team will have to be deployed.


Fires can be avoided by being aware. Crew should always be aware of their surroundings, noticing funny smells, not leaving hot objects unattended (like toasting machines!), and carrying out regular rounds while underway.



Abandon Ship:

Out at sea, the vessel is your lifeline. There is a saying in the maritime industry: You should always step up into a life raft. What this means is that abandoning ship is an absolute last resort, when the ship has sunk to such a degree that it is completely below the water, that is when you should step into a life raft and thus abandon ship.


Abandoning a ship involves getting into life rafts. There are varying types of life rafts, but the most common ones in yachting are 8, 16, or 25-man life rafts. Life rafts are equipped with a survival pack which includes, among other things: pyrotechnics for signalling distress, calorie bars, water sachets, sea sickness tablets, and a fishing line. The fishing line is mostly for entertainment and to keep up morale.


Among the abandoned ship duties, it will be someone's responsibility to bring a ‘grab bag’. This is a bag that contains life-saving apparatus like a SART and an EPIRB. Both of which are ways of sending distress signals and aiding the authorities in finding your location. SART uses radar, and EPIRBs use satellites to pinpoint your exact location.


Collision at Sea:

It surprises many how often vessels collide at sea. There is an entire convention based on avoiding collisions at sea (COLREGs), which are known as the rules of the road (at sea). Crew in charge of navigation onboard yachts must have the appropriate licences and training, which often includes learning the COLREGs by heart. When a vessel is underway, the bridge is manned 24/7, and there is always someone on the lookout for other vessels. As a lookout, it is important to notify the OOW of any vessels, landmarks, or lights that you may see.


These are some of the most common drills and safety topics new crew can expect to participate in while onboard. But there are many more; the more you practise drills, the more confident you will be in an emergency. New crew members should ask as many questions as possible about safety to ensure they are confident with the equipment and procedures onboard.


Safety at sea is a dynamic topic and one with a lot of depth. To travel the world on the ocean, we must respect the ocean. There are no fire departments, police stations, or hospitals on the water. All emergencies must be fully handled by the crew. This highlights the importance of crew training and certification, onboard safety management systems, and drills. Working at sea is a really fun way to live, but safety never takes a day off, so always have it in mind.

 

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