At sea, we are trained to fight fires, manage damage control and handle casualties. The location of all the relevant equipment for each of these scenarios is strategically placed around a vessel and the signage is used appropriately to create muster points, first-aid posts or damage control units.
Capsizing, Sinking or Foundering
In the case of a vessel capsizing and or sinking however the essential marine safety equipment is frequently spread throughout the vessel with the lack of consideration to how quickly it all can be accessed in the time of an emergency. Even if a grab bag is used, more often than not it is placed in a locker or under a bunk separate from other essential items. On larger ships the SART is placed inside the bridge door, the float free EPIRB on the bridge wing, the life buoys & rafts are sited port, stbd, fwd and aft … however the VHF radio and signalling equipment could be located in another compartment of the vessel.
Why is this important?
If the essential safety equipment is not readily accessible you could end up in the water with either no means to facilitate your own rescue or a lack of vital equipment that could significantly reduce the length of time in the water. When it happens it will happen quickly.
Scott Smiles, the founder of Life Cell Marine Safety, had 50 seconds to abandon his 42ft vessel before it disappeared beneath the surface. Had he managed to grab his flares he could have been rescued the first time the helicopter flew overhead. Instead Scott, his friend and their 11 year old sons clung on to their cool box and EPIRB for over 2 hours before the helicopter finally managed to locate them. If he had taken another 2 seconds to try and also grab his flares he said their necks would have been broken as the vessel dramatically sank without a single bubble coming to the surface.
F/V Misty Dawn Sank
In 2008 the Misty Dawn, a 8m shrimp trawler, sank stern-first and the two crew managed to cling onto a lifebuoy which fortunately had floated clear. However, there had not been time to alert anyone to their predicament, and they now found themselves at the mercy of the strong flood tide, and being swept up the Solway Firth.
F/V Ocean Way Sank
Two crewmen from Ocean Way huddled together for warmth, and remained on the hull for about 30 minutes before the vessel began to sink by the stern, at which point they jumped into the water. After the vessel sank, two lifebuoys and a bottle of mineral water floated to the surface close to the men. They tied the lifebuoys together and used the water to hydrate and clear their mouths of the diesel oil that was all around them on the surface of the water, and they then prayed for rescue. They had no other means available to alert the authorities.
F/V JMT Sank
F/V JMT sank off Rame head in 2015, a member of the crew was found in a life ring but tragically dead, he had no means to alert the authorities. The MAIB found the HRU activated but the weaklink in the liferaft painter did not give way and the EPIRB was found still secured in the wheel house, it was not a ‘float free version’.
Prepared for Accidents
In order to minimise the consequences of a marine accident, a vessel and its crew need to be prepared to deal with a variety of emergency situations. Vessels are prepared for this through design and the provision of life saving appliances. Vessel owners and operators prepare their crews by providing them with guidance and procedures, and through the delivery of training. To ensure that the emergency equipment remains in an operational state, the crew training has been effective, and the vessel’s emergency procedures are fully understood, ships’ crews are required to conduct realistic emergency response drills on a regular periodic basis.
AMSA have recently amended their regulations to state that all essential safety equipment is stored in an ‘accessible float free device’ to ensure that crew can facilitate their own rescue should they find themselves in the water.
The MCA has issued Marine Guidance Note MGN 614 (M) – Yacht and Powerboat Safety at Sea – Stowage of Life- Saving Appliances – Good Practice.
Posts, Stations and Muster Points
Repair-party stations, Fire control post, First-aid stations ……. Life Cell – a SOLAS approved float free device that stores all essential marine safety equipment. The signage is clear, it is an easy induction for anyone onboard, and it has already saved lives since it became available in 2015.