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A Risky Business?

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Just what are the risks associated with working in the yachting industry? Well, the liver gets a pounding, that’s for certain. Also, the feet, knees and back often are tortured from walking miles of teak with bare feet. But what are the serious risks to our wellbeing as a result of our lifestyle?

By some statistics, yachting is a dangerous occupation. Occupational dangerousness is generally measured in deaths per 100,000. Firefighting, for example, – an occupation just outside the top ten most dangerous jobs – is said to have an average of seven deaths per 100,000. However, with only about 40,000 yachties, and coupled with the fact that we have had more than four reported deaths in the last few months, yachting statistically is a “dangerous job.” In fact, yachting, following these statistics, is slightly more dangerous than firefighting. Now, of course, two of the four recent deaths did not occur while on the deceased crewmembers were on duty, but the crewmembers’ locations were direct results of their occupations.

What is the point in rendering these dreadful occurrences into statistical terms? Statistics can provide an interesting perspective and present a picture that allows us to better prepare for the risks to which we may be susceptible. Statistical analysis is especially useful if one includes injuries and not only deaths. Statistics are factual; using statistics avoids any suggestion of judgment or blame. No one wants to speak ill of the dead and no one wants to suggest that a crewmember who was murdered or killed was in any way responsible, but the statistical pattern does, impartially, but very clearly, highlight risk factors.

On larger vessels, risk analysis is part of the basic safety management protocol. Indeed risk is something that we consider in many parts of our lives. We weigh the risks and decide whether or not to take them. Flying, for example, has risks. Most people know, or at least believe, that older planes and dodgy airlines offer a greater chance of a plane crash. In order to mitigate the risks, we choose what we perceive is a better standard of airline. The same should be true of risks related to our jobs aboard yachts. If we know where, when or why accidents occur, surely we should adapt our behavior, preparations or training accordingly.

In the absence of science, but using public knowledge of the risk pattern, what I’ve highlighted below appears to be rather predictable in the yachting industry.

Most at risk of death or injury in yachting: Men.
  In the last few years, deaths and injuries of men outnumber those of women by a huge margin. Even in recreation activity, men are more likely to be injured in yachting, when in the “normal” world the figures are far less disparate.

Greatest time of risk of death or personal injury: At night between 2200 p.m. and 0600 a.m.
  Most deaths and injuries happen late at night.

Most risky operation in yachting: Tender driving
.  In the last year, the majority of deaths and serious injuries have occurred in tenders.

Location of greatest risk: In port.
Yachties spend a fortune on training in order to be safe at sea and to avoid collision, grounding or sinking. Crew organize their equipment and crewmates to ensure safe operation of the vessel.  However, it is brutally obvious that they are at much higher risk when the yacht is not moving!

This all may sound pointless, but I hope the perspective provides insight into just how much yacht crew have control of the risks they face. It would seem that somewhere in the greater scheme of things judgment is one of the most important safety factors in yachting.

So, to all of you men in tenders when the boat is in port late at night, be careful as the odds are against you!

You are right, having seen 3 of the 4 tender accidents that occured in the Exumas recently I feel that the statistics may be being hidden (from charterers and owners or even by owners) rather than used to the industry's benefit. The sum total of employees in yachting is equal to one small corporation. Bad press can quickly hurt any small business, especially one that relies on fickle people for income.
How about including yard workers amongst the figures? That would boost the numbers and perhaps give a more rounded concept of statistically what it takes to run these puppies.
On another note I have a statistic in the back of my head that says that 90+% of all vehicle accidents are caused by sober drivers. The implication being that they are the ones who should be cautioned and removed from the road!!
Posted by: Richard Simpson at 31/03/2011 11:39

Thank you Mike.

Although there are many safety drills onboard most yachts with regards to fire, man overboard etc. Some safety training that may be missing is looking out for your fellow mates and having buddy systems in place on downtime.

I think that we can all see that yachties are actually an industry exposed to volitale countries on a regular basis.

Simple discussions about the country you are in and its risks for foriengers, and how to deter criminals are all things that you can talk about.
What do you keep in your wallet for example? Who are you talking to?

I think many newcomers to the industry are not aware of all the risks and dangers and instead of the Captain putting his head in the sand he should include his meetings with an overview of risks and how to keep potential problems at bay.
Posted by: Stacey at 01/04/2011 21:14

Thank you for the stats mike.

While your statistics may be true they are not representative.

In order to generate a true statistical analysis, you have to do it over a sustainable period of time. Simply saying that in the past few months there have been four deaths denys the fact that maybe in the few months before there weren't any. I think that if you observe deaths in the yachting industry over time as result of work related accidents or incidents it will not be ranked over a profession that requires you to run into a burning house. It is probably true that risk assessment in yachting needs to be taken more seriously but over exaggerating the issue defeats the purpose in my eyes.
Posted by: johnny at 01/04/2011 21:55

It's all very well extolling the virtues of statistical analysis, but correct application and interpretation are key. Does the author really believe yachting to be more dangerous than fire fighting? [Edited by moderator]
Posted by: Sam Turner at 01/04/2011 22:17

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