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Helicopter Rescue
Posted: Friday, February 25, 2011 3:36 PM
Joined: 02/05/2008
Posts: 392

Dockwalk magazine's new column, Worst Case Scenario by Kelly Sanford, highlights a hypothetical situation that captains can run into and offers advice from experts on how to handle it. The March 2011 column is about ejecting charter guests. We're republishing it here so you can comment on it.

Although rare among professionally crewed pleasure yachts, there are cases when yachts have required the assistance of coast guard aviation resources. To help crew prepare for situations possibly requiring aviation assistance, USCG Aviation Survival Technician Chuck Medema outlines information captains and crew should consider.

“Big boats, like professionally crewed yachts, typically know how to do things right,” Medema says. “They have the proper electronics, training and emergency equipment.” Where Medema sees professional crew getting into trouble is that they wait too long to contact the Coast Guard, thinking they can manage the situation. Depending on the vessel’s location and the nature of the emergency, it may take an hour or more from the time the initial distress call is made for a helicopter to arrive. In that time, if the situation deteriorates and the vessel sinks, rescue becomes much more difficult.

Medema maintains that a captain should initiate contact with the Coast Guard if a situation has the potential to escalate quickly – for example, flooding or a fire. The local Coast Guard sector or group can monitor the vessel’s condition and location in the event the situation deteriorates. This also allows vessels to re-route to the area.

Typically, aviation resources are reserved for situations where there is an immediate threat to life. Once a team is dispatched, the captain will receive explicit instructions from the Coast Guard. At this point, it’s important for the captain to remain calm and in a position to receive and respond to radio communications. “As we arrive on the scene, we follow a specific, set protocol based on the situation,” Medema says.

The USCG crew first will assess the situation. “We’re not just going to show up and start evacuating crew unless it’s necessary.... If it’s possible, we are going to try and save the boat,” Medema says.

If the situation demands it, the aviation team will evacuate the crew. “The captain may be asked to turn off certain electronics, stow equipment on deck or alter course to facilitate the rescue effort, but he will be given very specific instructions from us,” says Medema. “This is not something we expect [civilian crew] to train for, because this is what we train for every day, and part of that training is giving clear instructions to the crew in distress.”

Although crew may not be expected to practice helicopter rescue procedures, crew should regularly train in communication protocol. If the deck crew are required to be away from the pilothouse to manage the emergency or to prepare for evacuation, interior crew should have practice in reading and relaying vital information before being asked to do so under extremely stressful and potentially chaotic conditions.

Many captains’ worst-case scenario is abandoning ship before rescue has arrived. “If you’re able to do so, take every signaling device you can with you,” Medema says, who adds that the EPIRB is the best tool to help rescuers find you. “Weird things can happen once you go in the water. People get separated from the EPIRB, sometimes people get separated from their life jacket, so the more signaling devices you have, the better; flash- lights, glow sticks, mirrors, flares – flares are great. It’s hard to convey just how difficult it is to spot a person in the water when you’re searching miles of open water, especially if it’s dark.”

Crew should regularly practice donning survival gear, making sure they know how to fit the gear properly. Some offshore commercial crew will use heavy duty duct tape to secure themselves in a life vest and to prevent themselves from removing it in a panic.

If you end up in the water, “Rule number one is [to] stay together!” Medema says. “And if it’s safe to do so, stay with the boat. You are more likely to be found if you’re with the boat. Distances can be deceiving once you’re in the water. If you’re fifteen miles offshore, even if you can see land, don’t swim for shore, because there are currents and conditions you cannot see. There are not many people who will make it and the farther you move from the last point of contact, the harder it will be to find you.”

Many yacht captains’ biggest liabilities are pride and complacency. Several captains interviewed admit- ted that they were unlikely to contact the Coast Guard unless a situation was already dire. This reluctance often is buttressed by a full complement of emergency systems and supplies standard aboard most luxury yachts. But whatever resources are on board, none of them guarantee that you won’t face a situation that warrants rescue.

“It’s better to contact us early and allow the Coast Guard to monitor a developing situation that you may be able to manage on your own than to wait too long and complicate the rescue effort,” Medema says. Remember that emergency situations are equally likely – and statistically more likely – to happen while operating the tender.

Although Medema represents the U.S. Coast Guard, sources from the Royal Navy maintain that personnel in the U.S. and the EU cross train regularly and rescue protocol on either side of the
Pond will be nearly identical.
Posted: Friday, February 25, 2011 5:54 PM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1026

USCG, " Safety at Sea Seminar" , Helicopter rescue technique. Part 1 And Part 2 . I dont know if you can use the USCG helicopters to remove Ejected Charter Guests....check with your charter broker.
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