Working aboard a superyacht can appear very glamorous on the surface. In reality, a dedicated crew aboard the yacht works long hours and very hard to keep their vessel in Bristol condition. Part of that work can be dangerous. To protect crewmembers, the yachting industry has adopted the tenets of the Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen (COSWP).
COSWP is a written code of best practices developed by the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) for merchant seaman aboard UK registered vessels to improve health and safety on board ships. The underlying principle of COSWP is, the yacht owner, the yacht management company and all crew members are stakeholders in the safety responsibility and its onboard management, the personal health and safety of the crew and their work activities. While many parts of this code are gleaned from existing international regulations, the document also provides a consolidated “how to” manual with guidelines for the plethora of working and living conditions aboard a vessel. The cornerstones of COSWP are the use of risk assessment, permit to work systems, personal protective equipment and training for emergencies.
“The main elements of the risk assessment process are: classify work activities, identify hazards and personnel at risk, identify risk controls, estimate the risk, decide the tolerability of the risks, prepare risk control action plan, review adequacy of action plan, ensure risk assessment and controls are effective and up to date.”
A simple method of estimating risk looks at the likelihood of harm and the severity of harm. A yacht engineer swapping out the water pump in a hot engine room while motoring in heavy seas has a very high risk for a dangerous accident. Take that same task and perform it at the dock, with the engines shut down and a cool breeze coming through the open portlights, then the risk becomes very low. Once a complete risk assessment is done, measures of control are put into place.
“The permit to work system consists of an organized and predefined safety procedure. A permit to work does not in itself make the job safe, but contributes to measures for safe working.”
A deckhand gingerly polishing the satellite TV dome next to the radar antenna while perched high atop the yacht is performing a high risk activity, but following the checklist to obtain the permit to work minimizes that risk. The Officer of the Watch is informed that the deckhand is aloft, warning notices are posted not to turn on the radar transmitter and the deckhand is wearing a safety harness attached to a strong point.
“Personal protective equipment must be used only when risks cannot be avoided or reduced to an acceptable level by safe working practices, that cause no health risk to any worker.”
A stewardess meticulously cleaning the day head won’t start feeling woozy if she is wearing a proper respirator and using a portable, high capacity ventilation fan to keep the air fresh in that confined space. Examples of personal protective equipment include safety helmets, ear plugs, goggles, gloves, safety boots, dust masks, high visibility clothing, lifejackets and immersion suits.
“Musters and drills are designed to prepare a trained and organized response to dangerous situations which may unexpectedly threaten loss of life at sea. It is important that they be carried out realistically, approaching as closely as possible valid emergency conditions.”
Fire, abandon ship, rescue from dangerous spaces, and man overboard drills are all conducted on a regular basis. This training not only improves crew teamwork and morale, it produces the correct response to those emergencies and confidence in that response.
The Code of Safe Working Practices is introduced to all crew hoping to work aboard a superyacht during their STCW (Standards of Training and Certification for Watchkeepers) Basic Safety Training. Once crew has a berth aboard a yacht, a copy of the Code should be kept close at hand.
Capt. Jeff Werner is a Senior Instructor with International Crew Training in Ft. Lauderdale, and is a 23 year veteran of the yachting industry.