Thoughts on safety at sea:


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Dick
Dick
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Alex Blackwell - 9/23/2019
Dick - 9/22/2019
Daria Blackwell - 9/3/2019
Dick - 9/3/2019
Simon Currin - 9/3/2019
OK I am convinced. We will be fitting a Bilge Alarm.
Simon

Hi Simon, While you are at it, go for two: a dedicated high water alarm leveled just above where the bilge pump is activated and wire in an alarm that sounds every time the bilge pump runs. Dick

Oh, Dick, great idea about the alarm indicating the bilge pump is running. I hadn't thought of that. If you hear it often enough, you'll know there's a problem. Thanks!

The below is part of a series of safety thoughts:
Practice and Drills
The older I get, the more I find myself saying: “If it is not written down, it doesn’t exist.”
Well, the same goes for seamanship and safety: without practice, the best strategy, the most well thought out plan, will not exist when you need it most if it is not practiced. Practice drills are one of the most easily put-off items on anyone’s to-do list, and one of the most important.
Most who read this will think first of COB drills and most, I suspect, will cringe as they reflect on how long since their last practice drill. But I would suggest that other drills: fire, flooding and medical procedures are every bit as important. What is the response to an engine alarm? Or to the alarm from your propane sniffer? These should be thought through ahead of time and periodically reviewed with all crew.
Firstly, it might be argued that every vessel should have a written plan/procedure for each emergency (ours is posted in the head where it is most likely to be occasionally reviewed). Then, drills can be scheduled, much like the maintenance one does to keep one’s boat in tip-top shape. When you have a drill, do a post-mortem, especially if you have new crew, to get feedback on what works, what does not and for new ideas.
One stimulus to practice might be to organize through a local club or association a weekend day early in the season where boats do practice drills together and share thoughts and procedures: a “safety” day so to speak.
This will be posted in the Forum and I welcome comments/suggestions/thoughts.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Excellent thoughts, and I will suggest the COB day to our local sailing club today.
One aditional aspect for them (and you) that I will add: The crew member who "falls" overboard during the event should be the skipper. This adds one critical aspect to the process: that other members of the crew are proficient in helming and managing the boat. This would also apply to husband and wife teams, who do not race.
All the best
alex Blackwell, s/v Aleria

Hi Alex, Excellent idea. Lets us know how they respond. You have an excellent protected area for the following. Dick
MOB, Alchemy’s recipe:
Adapt the following as makes sense.
For the drill, get another sailing experienced couple (preferably reciprocate on their boat) and the four of you go sailing on a moderate day, 10-15kn, and choose an un-traveled area. Review the drill in detail and any particulars for the vessel in question. The skipper jumps overboard in wet (or dry) suit and his/her usual inflatable life vest (perfect time to test the life vest and any recovery devices such as AIS locators, lights etc.). His usual crew, for most of us our wife, then executes recovery single-handed with the other couple standing by ready to help, but standing down unless needed. We did it going upwind and did not try with a spinnaker or with a whisker pole, but did discuss how those would change the procedures. If there are near observation points around, a call to the CG might make it less likely that they will get called out: possibly also a “Security” call announcing COB drills in progress with location.
Come back with questions/comments.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

David Tyler
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Dick - 9/23/2019
Simon Currin - 9/23/2019
Dick
What you say makes perfect sense but it does sound like a drift towards a workplace type regulated environment where procedures and protocols abound. I enjoyed your tip regarding where these documents get most read and may implement that at work!

Having made those slightly flippant points I do agree that having such documents in place and the procedure rehearsed would be very comforting when something does go wrong. Your idea of sharing those rehearsals with others at the start of the season or at the beginning of an ocean crossing is excellent. Maybe share that idea with Olivier who is organising and Ocean Safety Seminar In November ahead of the Atlantic Crossing season?

Simon

Ali
Dick - 9/22/2019
Daria Blackwell - 9/3/2019
Dick - 9/3/2019
Simon Currin - 9/3/2019
OK I am convinced. We will be fitting a Bilge Alarm.
Simon

Hi Simon, While you are at it, go for two: a dedicated high water alarm leveled just above where the bilge pump is activated and wire in an alarm that sounds every time the bilge pump runs. Dick

Oh, Dick, great idea about the alarm indicating the bilge pump is running. I hadn't thought of that. If you hear it often enough, you'll know there's a problem. Thanks!

The below is part of a series of safety thoughts:
Practice and Drills
The older I get, the more I find myself saying: “If it is not written down, it doesn’t exist.”
Well, the same goes for seamanship and safety: without practice, the best strategy, the most well thought out plan, will not exist when you need it most if it is not practiced. Practice drills are one of the most easily put-off items on anyone’s to-do list, and one of the most important.
Most who read this will think first of COB drills and most, I suspect, will cringe as they reflect on how long since their last practice drill. But I would suggest that other drills: fire, flooding and medical procedures are every bit as important. What is the response to an engine alarm? Or to the alarm from your propane sniffer? These should be thought through ahead of time and periodically reviewed with all crew.
Firstly, it might be argued that every vessel should have a written plan/procedure for each emergency (ours is posted in the head where it is most likely to be occasionally reviewed). Then, drills can be scheduled, much like the maintenance one does to keep one’s boat in tip-top shape. When you have a drill, do a post-mortem, especially if you have new crew, to get feedback on what works, what does not and for new ideas.
One stimulus to practice might be to organize through a local club or association a weekend day early in the season where boats do practice drills together and share thoughts and procedures: a “safety” day so to speak.
This will be posted in the Forum and I welcome comments/suggestions/thoughts.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy



Hi Simon,
Some people can pull off a seat-of-one’s-pants existence reacting spontaneously and successfully to the slings and arrows one encounters in offshore passage making: but I am not one of them. Nor, do I believe, are the vast majority of cruisers. Most of us need to be well prepared to respond to an unfolding and unexpected event with speed and efficiency. We are usually far less competent in anxious situations than anticipated.
It is no accident (pun intended) that airline pilots are wedded to a comprehensive checklist before they leave the ground. Nor is it surprising that hospitals and medical practices (you may be able to confirm this) are turning to checklists of various sorts to promote safety and to make less likely error: “accidental” deaths and inadvertent problems are documented to decrease markedly.
And it is not a coincidence that these activities have a responsible person (pilot, doctor, nurse) responsible for passengers/patients who essentially put their faith in the “system” such as it is.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy



This brings to mind Capt "Sully" Sullenberger, of "Miracle on the Hudson" fame. Having just taken off, he suffers a massive bird strike that takes out both engines. He has seconds to decide what to do. His copilot starts working through the relevant checklist, but Sully realises that he needs power now, and that item comes some way down the checklist. He switches on the Auxiliary Power, and that enables him to make a successful landing in the Hudson that saves the lives of all on board. There had never been a bird strike that had completely disabled an aircraft in this way, so it hadn't been written into the pilot training or the checklists. Sully had to rely on his vast experience and quick thinking, because that was all he had to rely on.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800 -1891): "No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy".

Mike Tyson: "Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth".

To put it another way: "It's not happening like it says in the checklist - now what do I do?"
Dick
Dick
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David Tyler - 9/23/2019
Dick - 9/23/2019
Simon Currin - 9/23/2019
Dick
What you say makes perfect sense but it does sound like a drift towards a workplace type regulated environment where procedures and protocols abound. I enjoyed your tip regarding where these documents get most read and may implement that at work!

Having made those slightly flippant points I do agree that having such documents in place and the procedure rehearsed would be very comforting when something does go wrong. Your idea of sharing those rehearsals with others at the start of the season or at the beginning of an ocean crossing is excellent. Maybe share that idea with Olivier who is organising and Ocean Safety Seminar In November ahead of the Atlantic Crossing season?

Simon

Ali
Dick - 9/22/2019
Daria Blackwell - 9/3/2019
Dick - 9/3/2019
Simon Currin - 9/3/2019
OK I am convinced. We will be fitting a Bilge Alarm.
Simon

Hi Simon, While you are at it, go for two: a dedicated high water alarm leveled just above where the bilge pump is activated and wire in an alarm that sounds every time the bilge pump runs. Dick

Oh, Dick, great idea about the alarm indicating the bilge pump is running. I hadn't thought of that. If you hear it often enough, you'll know there's a problem. Thanks!

The below is part of a series of safety thoughts:
Practice and Drills
The older I get, the more I find myself saying: “If it is not written down, it doesn’t exist.”
Well, the same goes for seamanship and safety: without practice, the best strategy, the most well thought out plan, will not exist when you need it most if it is not practiced. Practice drills are one of the most easily put-off items on anyone’s to-do list, and one of the most important.
Most who read this will think first of COB drills and most, I suspect, will cringe as they reflect on how long since their last practice drill. But I would suggest that other drills: fire, flooding and medical procedures are every bit as important. What is the response to an engine alarm? Or to the alarm from your propane sniffer? These should be thought through ahead of time and periodically reviewed with all crew.
Firstly, it might be argued that every vessel should have a written plan/procedure for each emergency (ours is posted in the head where it is most likely to be occasionally reviewed). Then, drills can be scheduled, much like the maintenance one does to keep one’s boat in tip-top shape. When you have a drill, do a post-mortem, especially if you have new crew, to get feedback on what works, what does not and for new ideas.
One stimulus to practice might be to organize through a local club or association a weekend day early in the season where boats do practice drills together and share thoughts and procedures: a “safety” day so to speak.
This will be posted in the Forum and I welcome comments/suggestions/thoughts.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy



Hi Simon,
Some people can pull off a seat-of-one’s-pants existence reacting spontaneously and successfully to the slings and arrows one encounters in offshore passage making: but I am not one of them. Nor, do I believe, are the vast majority of cruisers. Most of us need to be well prepared to respond to an unfolding and unexpected event with speed and efficiency. We are usually far less competent in anxious situations than anticipated.
It is no accident (pun intended) that airline pilots are wedded to a comprehensive checklist before they leave the ground. Nor is it surprising that hospitals and medical practices (you may be able to confirm this) are turning to checklists of various sorts to promote safety and to make less likely error: “accidental” deaths and inadvertent problems are documented to decrease markedly.
And it is not a coincidence that these activities have a responsible person (pilot, doctor, nurse) responsible for passengers/patients who essentially put their faith in the “system” such as it is.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy



This brings to mind Capt "Sully" Sullenberger, of "Miracle on the Hudson" fame. Having just taken off, he suffers a massive bird strike that takes out both engines. He has seconds to decide what to do. His copilot starts working through the relevant checklist, but Sully realises that he needs power now, and that item comes some way down the checklist. He switches on the Auxiliary Power, and that enables him to make a successful landing in the Hudson that saves the lives of all on board. There had never been a bird strike that had completely disabled an aircraft in this way, so it hadn't been written into the pilot training or the checklists. Sully had to rely on his vast experience and quick thinking, because that was all he had to rely on.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800 -1891): "No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy".

Mike Tyson: "Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth".

To put it another way: "It's not happening like it says in the checklist - now what do I do?"

Hi David,
My guess is that Cap’t Sully knew the checklist so well that he could quickly scroll down in his mind to the appropriate action to take. And, I would further suggest, that he knew the checklist that well because of his great experience and also because he had under his belt a great deal of practice and drills.
I do not know who said it, But I believe it to be true: “The essence of spontaneity is good preparation.” So, yes, every situation has unique elements, but the better prepared you are, the more likely you will deal with the surprising elements effectively.
So, I read your communication to argue, contrary to what I suggest, that preparation is silly and to be mildly ridiculed: “It's not happening like it says in the checklist - now what do I do?" to take one of your quotes. Or is it to point out that emergencies are more complex than I have portrayed and that one should never blindly follow a checklist, but rather be prepared to amend one’s planned and prepared reactions to fit the unexpected elements in a situation. I certainly agree with the latter sentence.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Alex Blackwell
Alex Blackwell
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Dick - 9/24/2019
David Tyler - 9/23/2019
Dick - 9/23/2019
Simon Currin - 9/23/2019
Dick
What you say makes perfect sense but it does sound like a drift towards a workplace type regulated environment where procedures and protocols abound. I enjoyed your tip regarding where these documents get most read and may implement that at work!

Having made those slightly flippant points I do agree that having such documents in place and the procedure rehearsed would be very comforting when something does go wrong. Your idea of sharing those rehearsals with others at the start of the season or at the beginning of an ocean crossing is excellent. Maybe share that idea with Olivier who is organising and Ocean Safety Seminar In November ahead of the Atlantic Crossing season?

Simon

Ali
Dick - 9/22/2019
Daria Blackwell - 9/3/2019
Dick - 9/3/2019
Simon Currin - 9/3/2019
OK I am convinced. We will be fitting a Bilge Alarm.
Simon

Hi Simon, While you are at it, go for two: a dedicated high water alarm leveled just above where the bilge pump is activated and wire in an alarm that sounds every time the bilge pump runs. Dick

Oh, Dick, great idea about the alarm indicating the bilge pump is running. I hadn't thought of that. If you hear it often enough, you'll know there's a problem. Thanks!

The below is part of a series of safety thoughts:
Practice and Drills
The older I get, the more I find myself saying: “If it is not written down, it doesn’t exist.”
Well, the same goes for seamanship and safety: without practice, the best strategy, the most well thought out plan, will not exist when you need it most if it is not practiced. Practice drills are one of the most easily put-off items on anyone’s to-do list, and one of the most important.
Most who read this will think first of COB drills and most, I suspect, will cringe as they reflect on how long since their last practice drill. But I would suggest that other drills: fire, flooding and medical procedures are every bit as important. What is the response to an engine alarm? Or to the alarm from your propane sniffer? These should be thought through ahead of time and periodically reviewed with all crew.
Firstly, it might be argued that every vessel should have a written plan/procedure for each emergency (ours is posted in the head where it is most likely to be occasionally reviewed). Then, drills can be scheduled, much like the maintenance one does to keep one’s boat in tip-top shape. When you have a drill, do a post-mortem, especially if you have new crew, to get feedback on what works, what does not and for new ideas.
One stimulus to practice might be to organize through a local club or association a weekend day early in the season where boats do practice drills together and share thoughts and procedures: a “safety” day so to speak.
This will be posted in the Forum and I welcome comments/suggestions/thoughts.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy



Hi Simon,
Some people can pull off a seat-of-one’s-pants existence reacting spontaneously and successfully to the slings and arrows one encounters in offshore passage making: but I am not one of them. Nor, do I believe, are the vast majority of cruisers. Most of us need to be well prepared to respond to an unfolding and unexpected event with speed and efficiency. We are usually far less competent in anxious situations than anticipated.
It is no accident (pun intended) that airline pilots are wedded to a comprehensive checklist before they leave the ground. Nor is it surprising that hospitals and medical practices (you may be able to confirm this) are turning to checklists of various sorts to promote safety and to make less likely error: “accidental” deaths and inadvertent problems are documented to decrease markedly.
And it is not a coincidence that these activities have a responsible person (pilot, doctor, nurse) responsible for passengers/patients who essentially put their faith in the “system” such as it is.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy



This brings to mind Capt "Sully" Sullenberger, of "Miracle on the Hudson" fame. Having just taken off, he suffers a massive bird strike that takes out both engines. He has seconds to decide what to do. His copilot starts working through the relevant checklist, but Sully realises that he needs power now, and that item comes some way down the checklist. He switches on the Auxiliary Power, and that enables him to make a successful landing in the Hudson that saves the lives of all on board. There had never been a bird strike that had completely disabled an aircraft in this way, so it hadn't been written into the pilot training or the checklists. Sully had to rely on his vast experience and quick thinking, because that was all he had to rely on.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800 -1891): "No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy".

Mike Tyson: "Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth".

To put it another way: "It's not happening like it says in the checklist - now what do I do?"

Hi David,
My guess is that Cap’t Sully knew the checklist so well that he could quickly scroll down in his mind to the appropriate action to take. And, I would further suggest, that he knew the checklist that well because of his great experience and also because he had under his belt a great deal of practice and drills.
I do not know who said it, But I believe it to be true: “The essence of spontaneity is good preparation.” So, yes, every situation has unique elements, but the better prepared you are, the more likely you will deal with the surprising elements effectively.
So, I read your communication to argue, contrary to what I suggest, that preparation is silly and to be mildly ridiculed: “It's not happening like it says in the checklist - now what do I do?" to take one of your quotes. Or is it to point out that emergencies are more complex than I have portrayed and that one should never blindly follow a checklist, but rather be prepared to amend one’s planned and prepared reactions to fit the unexpected elements in a situation. I certainly agree with the latter sentence.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

hence also the loss of the Boing Max aircraft - If i remember the reporting correctly,
they went down the checklist
David Tyler
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Dick wrote:
"Or is it to point out that emergencies are more complex than I have portrayed and that one should never blindly follow a checklist, but rather be prepared to amend one’s planned and prepared reactions to fit the unexpected elements in a situation."
This, certainly.
I feel that engraving procedures on tablets of stone and hanging them on the heads door is liable to encourage hidebound thinking. No such procedures can ever hope to cover all eventualities. It may induce less experienced crew members to think "all I have to do is follow what the skipper says here, and all will be well". Practice and drills: absolutely, the more the better. In the case of recovering a body in the water, working upwards from the fender and bucket that sailing schools use, through an alert active person, to a substitute for a heavy unconscious person. In all weathers and sea states. That can only add to a crew's competence when it comes to the real thing. Going through "what if" scenarios in one's mind to keep oneself awake during those long midnight watches: certainly. Writing it all down in too dogmatic a tone: not so much.
bwallace
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Hi, I was looking at the post by Daria on emergency tiller etc. I agree with her re the monitor and emergency rudder attachment. We fortunately have not used ours either.
But in regard to the emergency tiller, we always keep it ready at hand in the aft locker, and ensure the hole in the locker shelving is not blocked with clutter so the shaft can be quickly attached to the rudder head. I do admit every time we open the locker it is there winking at us., but for the last couple of seasons I had forgotten to free off the deck opening so I could deploy the rudder. When I thought of doing that a few weeks ago, it it was seized solid, and took quite a long effort to free the threaded cover, which has now been lubricated and is ready for use if needed. Just one of the many things that can be neglected!

Brian.
S/V Darramy
Dick
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bwallace - 9/24/2019
Hi, I was looking at the post by Daria on emergency tiller etc. I agree with her re the monitor and emergency rudder attachment. We fortunately have not used ours either.
But in regard to the emergency tiller, we always keep it ready at hand in the aft locker, and ensure the hole in the locker shelving is not blocked with clutter so the shaft can be quickly attached to the rudder head. I do admit every time we open the locker it is there winking at us., but for the last couple of seasons I had forgotten to free off the deck opening so I could deploy the rudder. When I thought of doing that a few weeks ago, it it was seized solid, and took quite a long effort to free the threaded cover, which has now been lubricated and is ready for use if needed. Just one of the many things that can be neglected!

Brian.
S/V Darramy

Hi Brian,
Good reminder. The devil is certainly in the details. Dick
jmounter
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Two weeks ago a friend, with two aboard his 55 footer, was sailing off Mallorca in strong winds, clocking speeds in excess of 9 knots. As they turned into the bay of Palma, as often happens, the wind completely died. They turned on the engine and took course for Palma. Because they had been sailing hard, all hatches except the main one were shut and that was open only an inch or two.

As those who have sailed extensively in the Med will know, not everyone tolerates wearing life jackets at all times so, against the safety advice, the jackets were below but placed so they could be easily retrieved. ( It is hard to criticise people for not wearing them when temperatures are well above 30 degrees, most are very uncomfortable. Flat calms, the boat motoring at, say 7 knots, what could go wrong?)

Approximately fifteen minutes after starting the engine one of them noticed a wisp of what appeared to be smoke coming out of the main hatch. On opening the hatch they were driven back by thick, foul toxic smoke. They shut it again and opened a cockpit locker to get at a fire extinguisher. Again they faced clouds of thick yellow and black sooty smoke.

Having immediately shut off the engine they tried again to get below, but could not. Meanwhile, they launched a liferaft, which inflated the wrong way up. The drogue deployed and pulled the raft to the end of its tether. It took exhausting minutes to haul it in and turn it the right way up. By then it had a foot and a half of water inside. Luckily, the sea was flat calm.

The skipper has tried to use the deck VHF to put out a May Day but all electrics were dead. Handheld VHFs were below but fortunately the skipper had his mobile phone in his pocket and sent for help on that. A Customs boat and a rescue craft were quickly on the scene and recovered all safely from the liferaft. The rescue boat pumped large amount of water into the yacht and extinguished the fire. She was towed to port.

On examining the boat back on shore, things got scary. The liferaft was kept in one of those bins that some yachts have, below the cockpit floor and over the engine. The heat from the engine fire had started to melt the bin, which was heavily blistered. Fortunately, the liferaft has been in a container and not a valise, or it might have been seriously damaged. The heat had also started to blister the purpose built gas bottle stowage locker.

The Skipper is highly experienced and generally very careful about safety. One of his crew is a professional yachtsman. They comment that they were extremely lucky. In the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Med, or anywhere where you can get days of benign sunny, shorts and T shirt weather, it is easy to think you are relatively safe. Particularly so when seas are flat calm and you are not far offshore.

But what if that main hatch had been closed completely and the fire had burned another ten minutes before being noticed? What if they had been fifty miles offshore, not ten? What if the liferaft had caught fire or been severely damaged? What if all the mobile phones had been below decks or they had been out of mob range? What if the gas had been on at the bottle and the lines had burned through?

This could in different circumstances, on a different day, in a different place have been a true disaster. Fire at sea is one of our greatest dangers. The skipper says he will never go to sea again without his grab bag on deck, I usually hang ours from the companion way steps and might have been able to grab that, an alternative way. He recommends mounting the liferaft on the push pit or, in any case, never in one of those purpose built liferaft storage bins over an engine. Too many liferafts inflate the wrong way up. Service companies should perhaps be encouraged to ensure that if this is a possibility, the drogue will not come out of the liferaft until purposefully deployed. If you insist on not wearing life jackets, because it is too hot and sticky, at least have them to hand.

I am sure there are other lessons from this incident, which happily caused no deaths or injuries.

Julian.



Dick
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jmounter - 10/1/2019
Two weeks ago a friend, with two aboard his 55 footer, was sailing off Mallorca in strong winds, clocking speeds in excess of 9 knots. As they turned into the bay of Palma, as often happens, the wind completely died. They turned on the engine and took course for Palma. Because they had been sailing hard, all hatches except the main one were shut and that was open only an inch or two.

As those who have sailed extensively in the Med will know, not everyone tolerates wearing life jackets at all times so, against the safety advice, the jackets were below but placed so they could be easily retrieved. ( It is hard to criticise people for not wearing them when temperatures are well above 30 degrees, most are very uncomfortable. Flat calms, the boat motoring at, say 7 knots, what could go wrong?)

Approximately fifteen minutes after starting the engine one of them noticed a wisp of what appeared to be smoke coming out of the main hatch. On opening the hatch they were driven back by thick, foul toxic smoke. They shut it again and opened a cockpit locker to get at a fire extinguisher. Again they faced clouds of thick yellow and black sooty smoke.

Having immediately shut off the engine they tried again to get below, but could not. Meanwhile, they launched a liferaft, which inflated the wrong way up. The drogue deployed and pulled the raft to the end of its tether. It took exhausting minutes to haul it in and turn it the right way up. By then it had a foot and a half of water inside. Luckily, the sea was flat calm.

The skipper has tried to use the deck VHF to put out a May Day but all electrics were dead. Handheld VHFs were below but fortunately the skipper had his mobile phone in his pocket and sent for help on that. A Customs boat and a rescue craft were quickly on the scene and recovered all safely from the liferaft. The rescue boat pumped large amount of water into the yacht and extinguished the fire. She was towed to port.

On examining the boat back on shore, things got scary. The liferaft was kept in one of those bins that some yachts have, below the cockpit floor and over the engine. The heat from the engine fire had started to melt the bin, which was heavily blistered. Fortunately, the liferaft has been in a container and not a valise, or it might have been seriously damaged. The heat had also started to blister the purpose built gas bottle stowage locker.

The Skipper is highly experienced and generally very careful about safety. One of his crew is a professional yachtsman. They comment that they were extremely lucky. In the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Med, or anywhere where you can get days of benign sunny, shorts and T shirt weather, it is easy to think you are relatively safe. Particularly so when seas are flat calm and you are not far offshore.

But what if that main hatch had been closed completely and the fire had burned another ten minutes before being noticed? What if they had been fifty miles offshore, not ten? What if the liferaft had caught fire or been severely damaged? What if all the mobile phones had been below decks or they had been out of mob range? What if the gas had been on at the bottle and the lines had burned through?

This could in different circumstances, on a different day, in a different place have been a true disaster. Fire at sea is one of our greatest dangers. The skipper says he will never go to sea again without his grab bag on deck, I usually hang ours from the companion way steps and might have been able to grab that, an alternative way. He recommends mounting the liferaft on the push pit or, in any case, never in one of those purpose built liferaft storage bins over an engine. Too many liferafts inflate the wrong way up. Service companies should perhaps be encouraged to ensure that if this is a possibility, the drogue will not come out of the liferaft until purposefully deployed. If you insist on not wearing life jackets, because it is too hot and sticky, at least have them to hand.

I am sure there are other lessons from this incident, which happily caused no deaths or injuries.

Julian.



Hi Julian,
Thanks for sharing that report and in such nice detail. The crew, I agree, were very fortunate.
There are a couple of thoughts:
It sounds like the crew kept their heads together and made good decisions in a difficult situation.
Early warning is everything (pretty much) for emergencies with short crew and small boats. Smoke detectors would have sounded alarm at the first whiff of smoke and might have allowed the crew to extinguish the fire with little damage. Our smoke detector in Alchemy’s engine room is so sensitive that it detected a slipping V belt that was starting to overheat. The one over the electric panel is the only alarm that has ever given a false alarm and it does so when we make toast. Other early warning devices that I recommend include high water alarms, an alarm that sounds when the bilge pump is activated, and a sniffer for gas fumes. Then there are the required alarms such as CO monitors.
It is often in the drills and practice sessions that placement of grab bags, access to comm (VHF, phone, EPIRB etc.) get figured out. Practicing Security, PanPan and Mayday calls is also good practice.
Life raft storage is frequently a headache. Each boat has a "best" solution, but I observe many boats with really poor choices. It is not bad advice to get the life raft out and ready to go at some early moments in responding to a boat-threatening emergency so it does not get damaged or inaccessible while grappling with the emergency. This hard as dealing with the emergency seems more pressing, but the skipper should keep crew safety foremost in mind and not only prioritize the saving of the boat.
Many larger boats in the 55-foot range have automatic fire suppressant devices in the engine room. These are getting better and better. Some are configured to be easily manually operated from a safe location if automatic operation is not wished for (good arguments both ways).
Communication access is also an issue not always easily solved: EPIRBS stored below decks might not be easy/possible to get: keeping a handheld VHF fully charged and in the cockpit is wise and comm by phone has been (maybe still is) discouraged by SAR authorities although that is bound to change. (Do you know who the skipper called and was the number programmed into his phone for easy access?) 
I am interested in other’s thoughts.
Again, Julian, thanks for the report.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

jmounter
jmounter
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Hi Dick,

I agree with all your thoughts, including the alarm. I dd not recall but have a feeling they did have a smoke alarm, but sounding below. Clearly if these are any use they need to have sound in the cockpit, too. With an engine running and hatches closed, anything down below would be very hard to hear.

We have an auto fire extinguisher and now we are sailing back in northern waters both my Admiral and I keep Epirbs in our clothing. I always keep a hand held VHF on deck, too.

The advice about getting the liferaft ready, immediately a real problem is discovered, is very important. But, of course, they did that on this occasion and it seems it may have been cooking for up to 18 minutes. In a Valise it might have been toast. As a stowage arrangement, that system is hopeless and my friend is writing to the upmarket boat manufacturer to warn them.

Imagine this: Half way across an ocean, everyone on deck, clipped on and wearing lifejackets. Hatches closed. They start the engine to charge and, as with my friend, cannot get below. The life raft doesn’t inflate having been cooked. Fire is starting to cook the gas bottle stowage, as it did for my friends. Choices: None. Swim, try to survive in a dinghy ( if you can get it out of a fiery locker and inflate it in time ) or suffer a fiery death.

With or without alarms, even with lifejackets properly worn, that ‘over the engine’ liferaft stowage system is deadly, in my view, and I urge fellow members who have it to use it to stow extra ropes or maybe a spare anchor and look for an alternative place to keep their ‘last chance’ .


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