Chiki Rafiki Report - Implications for cruisers

Allan Riches
Allan Riches
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I have re-read the yachting news reports of the MAIB assessment of the causes of Chiki Rafiki incident. Here are some thoughts that I expect others can also add to in the search for understanding and to avoid similar outcomes in future:

The report at seems to have specific information that the strengthening ribs fibre-glassed to the inside of the thin hull to give it structural integrity might have delaminated. "The investigation has identified that in GRP (glass re-enforced plastic) yachts that are constructed by bonding an internal matrix (or lining) of stiffeners into the hull, it is possible for the bonding to fail, thereby weakening the structure."

The YBM article quotes the MAIB report highlighting the importance of "the inspection and repair of yachts where a glass reinforced plastic matrix and hull have been bonded together." But it 's very difficult to inspect a matrix of stiffeners hidden between the outside hull and continuous inner accommodation liner.

I know of powerboats with a similar problem, when internal stiffening ribs lifted away from the inside of inaccessible areas of the hull. This problem seems to be created by water in the boat from previous causes. Some internal materials used as the core of stiffening ribs, covered with fibreglass and bonded to the inside surface of the hull, seem to deteriorate when exposed to salt water because they are no longer bonded to the hull. In the case of Chiki Rafiki, water might have been entering over some years due to successive groundings.

A significant focus of modern boat construction has been the pursuit of lighter - and presumably lower cost - hulls, which has been made possible by smart engineering; a thin hull skin, with a matrix of strengthening ribs on the inside, hidden by and bonded to a thin inner accommodation liner, which is what you walk around on, and sit against. From the text of the MAIB report, it seems these stiffeners could actually be fabricated on what is the outside of the internal accommodation shell and then bonded to the inside surface of the thin hull to reinforce it. Presumably by putting glue on the stiffeners and pushing them against the inside of the hull skin.

A consequence of creating a continuous internal accommodation liner is the difficulty of gaining access to the space between the inside of the hull and the accommodation liner, to inspect, evaluate or repair; either initially - to determine if the structural stiffeners have actually bonded to the hull and accommodation liner - and later, to check if they are still bonded after years of use. And when underway, to check for any internal signs of damage to the external skin (hull), or to locate where water is entering.

There is a Beneteau here owned by a local sailing club, and I run sailing courses on it for them. It is a modern dinghy style underwater shape, with retractable keel. Fast and convenient, but I cannot find the bilge, and I am routinely tasting the water slopping around on top of the inner accommodation liner to check if it is salt or fresh. There seems to be no way for this water to drain away into the bilge; or wherever the 2 x manual bilge pump intakes are located. Water on the accommodation liner floor must be scooped or sponged out from the inside.

If my interpretation of the MAIB report is correct, the Chiki Rafiki crew were faced with a very difficult problem created by this construction technique. They probably got water whenever they pumped the bilge. Perhaps it was sufficient water to somehow make its way from between the two skins - external hull and internal accommodation liner - and appear on the floor of the inner accommodation liner. They no-doubt checked and found it was salt, but if the boat is like the one here, the could not get access through the accommodation liner to examine the inside of the outer skin to locate the problem, to take action to stem the flow, or to see and understand the nature of the problem.

I expect the Chiki Rafiki crew would have taken very different actions if they could have seen the source of the incoming salt water, watched the thin hull flexing and perhaps observed elongated keel bolt holes. Instead of advising about an apparently manageable problem (water in the boat) and altering course to a closer port, they probably would have declared an emergency, deployed EPIRB and liferaft, and prepared to get off quickly; or perhaps have transferred to the liferaft and left the yacht.

The fact the liferaft was still in its stowage suggests they had no idea of the seriousness of their predicament.

"Where bonding is used to secure a matrix of stiffeners into a hull, it is possible for that bond to break down leading to weakening of the overall structure. Importantly, break down of the bond can be difficult to detect." (My Sailing article quoting the MAIB report.) Does that mean many of us could be sailing inside a thin-skinned yacht hull reinforced by a hidden structural integrity system that we cannot check is actually working as intended?

In light of this incident, I am thankful my yacht has no internal accommodation liner and sophisticated matrix of stiffeners to engineer a sufficiently strong structure from otherwise (inadequately?) thin and light materials; it 's just solid fibreglass with a moulded keel and external lead balast boolted on with the bolts visible in the bilge. What is see on the floor inside is not a thin liner hiding a network of ribs and a thin hull, but the inside of the actual hull material, up to 2 inches thick in places. If water is entering I can see exactly where - including in the proper bilge and at the keel bolts - and stick something in it to stem the flow. About 12 months after buying it, and despite a pre-purchase survey, I discovered soft areas in the laid teak deck. When I removed a section of the internal headliner I found massive fungi and extensive mould, all nicely hidden by the very attractive looking headliner. It was everywhere. When I replaced the entire deck I specified no internal head liner; if any water comes through again I want to know about it. The Chiki Rafiki incident could suggest a similar approach is also important for the hull. If you can 't see it you can 't know what is damaged and needs fixing when the boat is on shore. And when underway, you can 't know what might be about to cause a sudden and serious problem.

The MAIB report highlights how this modern construction technique can mask a serious problem which can very suddenly (now no longer unexpectedly) plunge the crew into a survival situation. Therefore, asking a nearby vessel to travel close by while a damaged - and perhaps fatally flawed - yacht limps to shore, now seems even more important and appropriate. In coastal waters or main shipping lanes with high traffic densities, nearby could mean in VHF range. In unpopulated coastal areas (like Australia), around SE Asia and other places without integrated coastal VHF networks (ie: most of the world), in the open ocean, and anywhere where a rescue helicopter, Coast Guard Cutter or RNLI lifeboat is not available for immediate deployment (ie: most of the world), nearby probably also means communication with any other vessels maintaining a 24/7 DSC watch on their HF/SSB radios.

If the Chiki Rafiki crew could have understood the gravity of their situation and made contact with an unknown but nearby yacht or ship to ask them to standby as they limped along, or to lift them from the fatally damaged hull or collect them from the life-raft, the outcome could have been very different.

As with numerous other incidents (at least over on this side of the world), using a satphone to contact a distant owner, relative or MRCC does not necessarily produce the required result, because they do not know what other yachts and small-craft are in the vicinity of the distressed yacht, and/or they have no means of making contact with them, either because these nearby vessels do not have an always-on satphone link, their satphone number is unknown, the MRCC does not have a HF/SSB radio with DSC (eg: MRCC Falmouth) or the yacht does not have a DSC capable HF/SSB radio switched on 24/7, scanning for calls - Individual, Group or Distress.

As recommended by numerous MRCCs on this side of the world, direct contact with nearby vessels via marine radio is more likely to get the required result in an emergency. Also, the "International Maritime Organization (IMO) has strongly recommended that non-SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea - SOLAS) vessels (ie: under 300 tonnes) to be fitted with GMDSS-compatible equipment." (AMSA Australia website). Yachts and other small-craft with DSC capable VHF and HF/SSB radios can make direct contact with SOLAS vessels, MRCCs, and with each other.

The recent official ITU inquiry into scanning options to increase the effectiveness and range of boat to boat DSC calling via the General receiver in DSC capable HF/SSB radios (eg: the ICOM M802 and 801), also reflects the growing awareness of the importance of mariners contacting other nearby mariners for advise or assistance (which could prevent an emergency), and in an emergency.

I 'm sure in the Chiki Rafiki situation the US Coast Guard used its DSC capable HF/SSB equipment to transmit Distress DSC calls to initiate contact with any other vessels nearby, hoping to request they assist Chiki Rafiki. But while there might have been other small-craft nearby, including yachts, they probably could not be contacted because they did not maintain a 24/7 DSC watch on a DSC capable HF/SSB radio. The outcome for the Ckiki Rafiki crew - either when limping along towards their new destination, or after the inversion, when in the water with a PLB beacon - could have been very different if other nearby (but unknown) yachts could have been contacted by Chiki Rafiki directly prior to the inversion, or by the US Coast Guard directing other yachts to their PLB location.

A lot of very plausible reasons are regularly offered as to why yachts cannot maintain a 24/7 DSC watch on marine VHF and HF/SSB, but such excuses seem to lack foresight and a consideration for other mariners who could suddenly find themselves with a crippled vessel, in a life-raft or in the water. "On long offshore passages, search and rescue support cannot be relied upon in the same way as it is when operating closer to the coast, and yachts crews need a much higher degree of self-sufficiency in the event of an emergency." (MAIB report - YBM) My thought is this self-sufficiency should extend to enough diesel, solar panels and batteries to provide electricity to maintain a (silent) 24/7 DSC radio watch - in addition to running fridges, auto-pilot, GPS etc - to be able to help other mariners nearby, or the yacht 's own crew.


The fact that so many yachts (sail and engine powered) are now constructed in a similar manner to Chiki Rafiki seems to accentuate the importance of recreational vessels making the effort to work together to create a quick response mutual support network, simply by maintaining a 24/7 DSC watch on VHF in coastal/congested areas, plus HF/SSB in isolated or open ocean areas. A DSC watch is quiet, so it is not an intrusive burden. The radio silently does the work of listening for DSC calls, not the crew.

If all the world 's small-craft added their vast numbers to the existing mandatory DSC watch on VHF and HF/SSB by SOLAS vessels, a very substantial communications network would be created for everyone 's mutual support, convenience and emergency benefit.
Daria Blackwell
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Very interesting analysis Allan. Coincidentally, the July issue of Practical Boat Owner just out today has an expert opinion on the subject. From the editor:

"It 's been a busy time for the MAIB. Just yesterday morning (Wednesday), the report on the tragic collision between the dredger Shoreway and the yacht Orca was published: for the full story click here. Three weeks earlier, the report into the loss of Bénéteau First 40.7 Cheeki Rafiki and her crew was finally released, with some damning findings regarding the yacht 's hull construction and keel fastenings. Such a report regarding such a popular yacht, whose construction is typical of many modern designs, has the potential to have far-reaching effects on the sailing industry. For expert opinion and our verdict, pick up the July issue of Practical Boat Owner, on sale today."

Vice Commodore, OCC 
Allan Riches
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Further to my original post, I 've had emails with other contacts in the cruising and racing world. This response below from Terry Sparks, retired US Navy Commander, HAM, cruiser, advocate of DSC capable HF/SSB radio use by yachts, writer of books on cruising and using HF/SSB radios, who also gives seminars on the topic, had this to say:

"Hi Alan,

Interesting stuff. I have had concerns about my boat for the same reasons. The good news is the keel is part of the hull and not a bolt on. But no access to anything below the deck or overhead.

I tell people to leave their radio in DSC watch. Maybe a few do, but most do not. I do not know how to drive it home. I tell them the current the M802 draws is approximately the same as leaving a 12V light bulb on, <2A. The response to that is good, but the radios are not on.

I guess I need to tell more sinking stories in my presentations?

Kind Regards

Terry Sparks"
Allan Riches
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In the hope of helping people who might be looking at the implications for them sailing in a boat with an internal matrix of inaccessible and invisible stiffeners and a hull that cannot be observed from the inside, the following might be useful:

When yachts in events - racing or rally, or cruise-in-company groups – or cruising independently, maintain a 24/7 watch by appropriate (VHF and/or HF/SSB) marine radio with DSC they can create a self-help capability with "a higher degree of self-sufficiency in the event of an emergency." (MAID report on Chikli Rafiki) The unique broadcast feature of marine radio does save boats and lives because crews can quickly contact other nearby yachts (or other vessels), known and unknown. Help from other resourceful yacht crews with a variety of on-board equipment can be a big benefit, but only if you can contact them because they all maintain a radio watch, 24/7: "A VHF Pan Pan call brought eleven fellow participants to the boat within minutes ... two rally friends volunteered to sail onboard with Dave and Magali, and another seven World ARC boats shadowed them on the passage to Pago Pago." "The intra-yacht SSB radio net also enabled swift communication between all rally boats on the passage."

It 's worth remembering - as demonstrated by this Chiki Rafiki incident and emphasized by the MAID report - that the excellent S&R services available around the UK, Europe and parts of North America, are abnormal. They do not exist in most parts of the world, especially not in the lower-cost, environmentally intact get-away-from-it-all places many people like to cruise. Limited search and rescue capabilities, in combination with local practices can mean that a satphone call to alert the MRCC has little effect:

But when other small-craft operators, who understand about the needs of fellow mariners, can hear the call for help on the radio, they can make a difference:

Yacht crews can get support from other knowledgeable and resourceful yacht crews to increase self-sufficiency. The DSC capable radio, in combination with the yacht 's unique MMSI number, operates with a muted speaker, making it easy (and quiet) to maintain a 24/7 radio watch. The radio maintains the silent watch and only disturbs the crew when a relevant call is received. DSC calls can be to the INDIVIDUAL yacht 's MMSI number (like calling a phone), or to a GROUP (eg: all yachts in the event, or all the yachts that are members of a club), or ALL CALLS; ie a DISTRESS call, which will open up the mute on all similar radios it reaches.

Many passengers on the Titanic learnt the hard way that switching off the radio is deadly. Radio operators on RMS Titanic and the nearby SS Californian had been communicating earlier that evening, but the SS Californian radio operator switched of their ship 's radio ten minutes before the Titanic hit the iceberg. Nearby yachts may have been able to help the Chiki Rafiki crew - either before the inversion or afterwards, to intercept the PLB in the water - but were uncontactable by either Chiki Rafiki (no HF/SSB radio?) or the US Coast Guard, because - like the SS Californian - their HF/SSB radios were turned off.

Modern DSC capable HF/SSB and VHF radios make it easy - and cheaper than a new sail - for each yacht crew to look out for the safety, welfare and convenience of fellow sailors, simply by maintaining a 24/7 (silent) watch with their radios. It 's that easy to help each other enjoy yachting, provide mutual support in places where outside assistance is limited, and in the unlikely event of an emergency, to save lives and boats.

The old technology routine of skeds (which were often missed) was developed so crews could turn off their noisy radios. The new technology - DSC capable HF/SSB radios - has overcome this problem of the unpleasant intrusion of radio noise into the yacht or idealic anchorage, and the difficulty of listening for calls. DSC capable HF/SSB radios create a convenient, quiet, 24/7 link to other nearby yachts, and they - not the crew - do the work of listening for calls.

Via radio, all the voice calls to provide advice (eg: anchorages and waypoints), warnings (eg: obstructions in the water) and assistance (eg: engine problems, flooding, dismasting) are free; it costs nothing to help each other. And the unique broadcast feature of radio means everyone in a race, rally or cruise-in-company - gets the exact same message simultaneously.

MRCC Hong Kong, Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, Yachting Australia, MRCC Australia and MRCC New Zealand already have their small-craft communication systems developed to address the need for greater self-sufficiency (as the MAID report suggests). Australia 's AMSA states:

"While satellites and satellite-compatible distress beacons have significantly improved the effectiveness of SAR operations, the system is NOT a substitute for carrying appropriate marine or aviation radio ... Depending on the circumstances, your initial distress alert should still be made by radio if possible. You should activate your distress beacon only if contact cannot be made by any other means or when told to do so by a rescue authority .... In the event of an emergency, communication should first be attempted with others close by using radios .... The basic concept of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is that search and rescue authorities ashore, as well as shipping in the immediate vicinity of a ship in distress, will be rapidly alerted to a distress incident so they can assist in a coordinated search and rescue operation with the minimum of delay." (AMSA website)

If yacht crews follow this existing and long-standing advice to also fit marine HF/SSB radios, and maintain a blissfully quiet 24/7 DSC watch when underway or anchored, yacht crews can help each other address the warning from MAID that yachts must be more self-sufficient when operating away from effective, immediate response, S&R capabilities.
David Tyler
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This blog:
says pretty much all that I 'd like to say on the subject, and better than I can.

Except that when I worked in the yachting industry, a nickname in common use was "Bendy-Toy". Seems that nothing 's changed.
Daria Blackwell
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A new development in the Cheeki Rafiki case:

Report in the Telegraph.

Yachting Monthly report

The story is widely reported in both lay and sailing media.

Vice Commodore, OCC 
Simon Currin
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I have copied the following discussion from Facebook

David Smith Ummm no, it means that boat builders, surveyors, owners, charterers and crewing agencies will have to up the anti and ensure their vessels are soundly built and are regularly dry- docked and surveyed to the same standard, by the MCA/Port State Control as any other commercial operation is.They may also be forced kicking and screaming to carry correct documentation and have to abide by the MLC for crew.

Neil Langford We 'll spoken - a large section of the sailing world has operated on a quasi commercial basis for too long, without having to comply with commercial operations standards. Tragically, that section of our community often enegages with new sailors and those without sufficient experience to really look after themselves.

Terri N Mark Lesage Interesting

Anne Lloyd That may be true but at the end of the day to suggest criminal charges for the owning company are appropriate is quite a step
We all hold to the idea that the skipper of the boat takes responsibility for the decision to put to sea or not
, and that includes his view on the condition of his boat, the proposed trip, weather etc
Once you go behind that it 's a new ball game for all of us. Do you want to ask your insurers permission to set off
Do you want them insisting you haul out before an ocean passage
It raises lots of questions that those of us works cruising short handed or single handed may not like.

Pete Jobson Nowhere does it say why this chap has been charged with gross negligence.

Frances Rennie I think it maybe because the yacht was owned by a company and the skipper and crew were working for the company and if so the directors of the company can be charged under Health and Safety Regulations in the UK

Roger Kynaston Sounds like a difficult prosecution though. They would have to prove negligence on the part of the directors in allowing the boat to sail in an unfit state. Given that there is no conclusive proof as to how the keel came off (did they hit a submerged...See more

Paul Thornton The families may also be pushing legal proceedings

David Smith It 'll come under corporate manslaughter; which came in after the Herald of Free Enterprise. The company hung the Master and Officers out to dry; even though they could proove it was corporate pressure, timetables and profit that were the root cause, they couldn 't bring the company to court for negligence, etc.

As someone who works at sea, I think it 's a good thing.

Anne Lloyd I believe the allegation may be that the boat had a number of groundings and yet was not hauled and inspected
I can say I know the owner/ director as he was a competitor sailing school in Southampton and I regard him as a good man with a responsible at...See more

David Smith And there lies the issue, "a number of groundings, and yet not hauled or inspected".

As a commercial entity it should have been.

Anne Lloyd That is the allegation yet to be proven I think

David Smith But it was talked about at the time as well.

Eoin Robson Here is the official MAIB report:

Sue Alan Too early to jump to any conclusions.

Anne Lloyd I have now read the MAIB report cover to cover. it makes powerful and distressing reading
But as a former barrister in Uk specialising in criminal work I do not see the justification for these criminal manslaughter charges.
We shall see. I believe he will be acquitted at enormous personal cost. At the moment even paying for his defence is difficult.
There are some lessons to be learned and the inquiry makes some interesting recommendations.
But a lot of it is d finitely in the category of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted
Two YM ocean people on board, use a tracker ng service, use a professional weather router. Plus the whole issue of what equates to a commercial trip which is definitely a departure from accepted custom and practice in the uk sailing industry

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