Thursday, May 15, 2014
ACCIDENTS ARE NEVER EXPECTED
I just read an account of a super yacht that sunk in Italian waters. The yacht had crossed the Atlantic more than a few times ... and there was a very experienced Captain aboard and a well trained professional crew. The weather turned unexpectedly worse than weather reports had predicted. About halfway into their 80 mile journey it was too rough to turn back so they pushed on. At times the sea was breaking over the decks of the yacht and steep waves sometimes would bury the bow. Like all accidents via deficiencies or just plan bad luck ... it’s a series of things that go wrong that lead to the ultimate demise.
The yacht was towing a 30’ + tender via two towlines over an inch thick. The first one parted and not long after the second one went and the tender was lost and became one less escape route. The bow buried into a wave and a forward hatch over the crew quarters caved in and filled the bow up to the water tight bulkhead. With the forward flooding the bow was riding lower and taking on even more water. The huge hydraulic swim platform on the stern was dislodged by waves and eventually pulled right off the yacht leaving a bunch of holes over one inch in diameter to take on water at the stern. One of the Sea Doo’s lashed in a cradle on the foredeck took a wave and broke it’s lashings and came through the front helm window. The yacht was doomed taking in sea water forward, mid and astern with every wave crashing over the fully awash decks. The wind was so strong the first life raft deployed sailed away and broke it’s tether. They jettisoned a helicopter off the deck to make room for the Coast Guard helicopter to pluck them off the deck.
The Captain and crew was very capable and did everything right they could do, and against very poor odds got all the guests and crew off the ship. The Captain left the yacht in an orderly way just ten minutes before it sunk to the bottom.
Most of you have been in some situation in your lives where it’s hard to believe the chain of things that can go wrong that cause a situation to cascade out of control. It’s only in hindsight that one can see the comedy of errors or string of bad luck in perspective. On the water things can turn ugly in a hurry. There are no guarantees in life and nature can throw some wicked curve balls that anyone can be totally unprepared for ... but here are a few things that might help in a bad situation on the water.
- build in as many redundant mechanical and safety systems into your boat that you can afford
- have more than one form of off boat communications in case of emergency e.g. Cell Phone, VHF, Portable VHF, Satellite Phone, EPIRB, SPOT Locator etc.
- never leave anything inside or outside the boat that can break loose and become a projectile ... that means everything put away down below and nothing that can fly off a counter when underway - on deck everything should be lashed down super strong - but ideally carry nothing on deck that isn’t part of the boats construction
- follow the weather like it’s your religion and learn to interpret conditions because the weatherman can be wrong too
- carry way more flares and distress devices than required by law
- every boat needs a dingy or a life raft as an alternative escape method if you are going offshore
- have swim fins and a snorkel mask handy ... snorkel masks make for great protection in a really bad storm
- expect that the unexpected can and will happen, and audit your boat to assess what could get damaged or torn away if you got caught on the water in 80 mph winds and try and remedy those weak links if you can
- if you are adding accessories to your boat like dingy davits, hydraulic swim platform; don’t go cheap, go with the most over-engineered heavy duty products you can find
Lets face it, if you own a Bertram, Hatteras or Viking (and others) built to fish offshore, you're going to be 90% of the way there to start with ... but for most, you have a lot of prepping to do to your boat to be as safe as you can in very bad weather conditions.
Monday, May 12, 2014
Well it’s May 10th and the boat is in the water and pretty much ready to go. Where I live the snow banks along my driveway are still a few feet high in some places but disappearing fast. Georgian Bay apparently still has some ice to the north. I heard about a boat that went into Twelve Mile Bay and later when it came time to leave it was blocked in by pack ice. At least that situation won’t last much longer but with water levels up about 10 inches there will likely be more floating debris and dead heads ... so take it easy for the first few weeks when boating out on the Bay and in the anchorages.
This is the time of year to take stock of your mandatory safety equipment. The most over looked items are fire extinguishers and flares. It’s a good idea to have your fire extinguishers recharged if the charge date is expired or the pressure gauge is outside of the “green zone”. Just as important take them all off the boat and give them a good bang on a solid surface to un-cake the powder at the bottom of the extinguisher. Otherwise if the powder has settled and caked and you need to use the extinguisher it will gas off but without the benefit of the powder that blankets and smothers the fire, the fire doesn’t go out.
Flares all have expiry dates so most boaters need to replace some every year in a staged approach. When you buy new flares check the expiry at the retailer as many chandleries have old stock that they usually sell at a discount. No sense in buying two year old flares unless you are just holding them as supplementary extras on top of your legal requirement for current flares. Many marinas have Canadian Power Squadron volunteers that come around to inspect your boat ... and if everything is in order from a safety and registration perspective your get an inspected/approved sticker. This could save you some time out on the water if you get stopped by the Police or Coast Guard, and if it’s just a standard courtesy on water inspection, it eliminates the rafting and boarding of your boat. Best of all these Power Squadron inspectors are volunteers and it’s free. If you don’t pass inspection you can quickly remedy the situation and they will come back to check and give you your sticker. Make sure your boat registration/documentation is also in order.
Last but not least when you're out and about, wear a life jacket. Especially in the spring when the water is still ice cold and your moving around the boat a lot getting reacquainted and checking things out. Have a great boating season.