Risk Management Aboard Vessels: Boating Safety Expert Article

In this piece, the focus is on Boating Safety Education and the importance of a pre-departure Safety Briefing. Good seamanship requires Captains, vessel operators and owners to have mitigation and contingency plans in place before and during a vessel’s voyage, and to be aware of and prepared for risks involved in maritime transit. Whether the vessel is a cruise ship, cargo vessel, ferry, yacht, charter or recreational boat, a prudent vessel operator should manage the level of risk.

This is the first in a series of articles, written by Marine Operations expert Captain Hendrik J. Keijer to address a variety of available methods and means which the level of risk aboard vessels can be managed.

boating safety expert

Risk Management Aboard Vessels: Boating Safety - Expert Article

Risk management consists of identifying the hazards, assessing the risks, and implementing changes required to minimize the risk of injury. Risk analysis begins with a thorough hazard analysis that identifies possible consequences and the likelihood of them occurring. All hazards that could potentially injure or harm a person must be identified.

For each hazard the likelihood, frequency, and consequences of exposure need to be identified (e.g. fatality, serious, or minor injury). Likelihood can be rated as almost certain, very likely, likely, unlikely and rare. Likelihood and consequence are then compared to determine risk severity. Situations assessed as “almost certain with fatal consequences” are the most serious while those assessed as “rare with consequent minor injuries” are the least serious.

Figure 1: Example of a Risk Severity Table

Once the risks have been assessed and ranked, the action to eliminate or reduce the risk should be identified and prioritized. Risk should be reduced as low as reasonably practicable by vessel operators, irrespective of criteria.

Boating safety education

The maritime environment is dynamic and unique; and in its complexity, demands a certain level of respect. Sudden changes in weather and/or sea conditions and visibility require continuous vigilance. There may be divers in the water or objects adrift that present a hazard to navigation, and vessels in the vicinity need to be closely monitored. Navigating a vessel is an active, demanding role for any Captain.

A vessel operator is required to monitor and absorb a wide variety of information from various sources whilst operating a significant investment, possibly at speed and in darkness, all while adhering to the ‘rules of the road’ and providing safety to their occupants and vessel.

Professional Mariners go through years of education, training, and courses to safely operate their vessels. Recreational boaters are recommended, and in some instances required, to obtain a boating license through an approved boating safety course. State boating license requirements should be consulted for the most up to date requirements. Even when a Boating Safety Course is not mandatory, it is important to remember that a prudent Captain is one who thinks and acts proactively, and informed boaters are more likely to recognize and act mindfully to the risks associated with boating.

It is highly recommended for vessel operators to enhance their knowledge through a boating safety course from a provider recognized by the United States Coast Guard (USCG), approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and State Boating License Agency.

In 2017, 81% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction. Only 14% percent of deaths in 2017 occurred on vessels where the operator had received a nationally-approved boating safety education certificate.

Not knowing what to do or how to act in the Maritime Environment can lead to catastrophic consequences. The United States Coast Guard statistics for 2017 indicate that 2,049 vessels operated by non-boating educated persons were involved in incidents.

Pre-departure safety briefing

A prudent Captain will conduct a safety briefing with his or her crew and passengers before departure, ensuring familiarity with the location and use of safety equipment aboard. In 2017, where cause of death was known, 76% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 84.5% were not wearing a life jacket. The location and correct donning of a life jacket is an essential part of a pre-departure briefing. The USCG recommends that boaters wear a life jacket at all times. A pre-departure safety briefing helps to ensure that passengers and crew will be able to don their life jackets as well as to assist others and utilize available safety equipment.

In 2017, the United States Coast Guard counted 4,291 accidents that involved 658 deaths, 2,629 injuries, and approximately $46 million of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents.

Being in a vessel which is taking on water, is on fire, or has persons in the water is a distressing situation. To aid survival on the water the USCG sets standards for the minimum safety devices recreational vessels are required to carry. Regardless of the type and quantity of required safety devices, they need to be USCG approved. The USCG provides updated safety equipment requirements based on type, length, and area of operation of recreational vessels.

Flares and smoke signals are highly effective to provide rescue services with a visual indication of the distressed vessel’s location, and are therefore a mandatory part of the safety equipment aboard. It is recommended that the location and use of visual distress signals be part of a pre-departure safety briefing. During reduced visibility situations (e.g. fog) a sound producing device such as a horn can be an effective means of alerting other vessels in the vicinity to the location.

An example of safety equipment is shown in the following figure depicting hand held safety flares, a hand held smoke signal and a 12-gauge safety launcher with 4 aerial signals to attract attention when in distress enhancing the chance of survival through rescue.

Figure 2: Example of Safety Equipment

Occupants of a boat should be able to accurately relay the position of a boat to the Coast Guard, and a simple “we are in the Bay” will not be adequate to facilitate a speedy response. It is advisable to show passengers on a recreational vessel how to use the Very High Frequency (VHF) marine radio and read GPS coordinates which can be relayed to the Coast Guard providing them with a precise location. In addition, it is wise to instruct passengers and/or crew on the fundamentals of operating the boat in case the operator is unable to do so.

Data Source: https://www.uscgboating.org/library/accident-statistics/Recreational-Boating-Statistics-2017.pdf

A pre-departure briefing and obtaining boating safety education are excellent tools available to vessel operators to manage risk.

Maritime Incident Investigations

From commercial shipping to recreational boating and everything in between, the maritime industry is multi-faceted and diverse. Our experts have the education, training, and hands-on experience to investigate the matter at hand. The Maritime practice at Robson Forensic is made up of experts from every facet of the industry, from navigators to marine engineers, to experts in operations both on board and in marina settings. They are frequently retained to reconstruct and analyze collisions and other mishaps that occur on and around the water.

For more information, submit an inquiry or call us at 800.813.6736.

Featured Expert

Hendrik J. Keijer, Marine Operations Expert

Hendrik J. Keijer

Marine Operations Expert
Captain Henk Keijer is a retired Master Mariner and Marine Engineer. For more than 30 years Captain Keijer operated a variety of vessels ranging from cruise ships to cargo ships and smaller boats. He… read more.


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