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Dr. Ken, I'm a horror writer whose book has a bunch of dead bodies on a charter yacht
Posted: Thursday, November 12, 2009 8:09 PM
Joined: 21/10/2009
Posts: 11

What is the standard procedure for storing bodies that die at sea?  If a guest were to expire, for whatever reason, what's the protocol?  Certainly under normal circumstances you would make for the nearest port and go from there, true?

However, in the book I'm writing, this is impossible.  The ship is about 160 foot motor yacht, anchored off an island and cannot be moved.  The island is uninhabited. 

Even under normal circumstances you would still have to keep the body somewhere until you made port and arrangements could be met, I'm assuming.  Are there body bags on board?  Would you put them in cold storage in the kitchen?  Gross, I know, but if there were infirmary facilities I doubt they would be equipped with a morgue. 

Have you ever actually heard of a guest dying on board a charter before?  I have at this point three people I need to deal with.  Maybe four and well, of course by the book's end it's really not going to be an issue since I think I'll just blow up the boat, anyway.  But for now, in trying to maintain a sense of "decorum" such as it is, I want to follow procedure as close as I can.

Thanks for any help you can give; I don't mean to gross you out or anything if you're reading this over lunch.   

Posted: Thursday, November 12, 2009 10:04 PM


I don't think there is a "procedure" for when someone dies on board. But I would guess that the walk-in freezer would be a good place to store a body. FYI, it's called the galley, not the kitchen and the walk-in likely wouldn't be in the galley, they're often belowdecks. Of course, I've only worked on yachts up to 130-feet, so I might be wrong about a 160-footer... anyone else?

Posted: Friday, November 13, 2009 1:50 AM
Joined: 02/06/2008
Posts: 342

the IMO publishes a medical guide as does the World Health Organization and both cover how to handle a death at sea. You might find the details interesting. I large tanker I sailed on had a mortuary cooler at the base of the stack for storing a body if needed. It looked like a long and fairly low stainless steel chest freezer We just used it to store bags of sawdust for fixing condenser leaks. The box was there because keeping a corpse in the walk-in cooler upsets the cooks and puts some folks off their feed.
Posted: Friday, November 13, 2009 4:55 AM
Joined: 21/10/2009
Posts: 11

Galley it is.  Chief, again, thanks for the pointers.  I'll look up the WHO and see what's what.  If the walk-in is below decks (it probably is - a lot of schematics I've seen have Misc. and Crew Misc. or sometimes even Galley listed below decks, like, under the Main Deck so that's probably what those areas were) I'll just put everyone there. 

Hey, quick aside: What's the best way to blow up a 160 foot boat?  Anyone?  Something dramatic with a timed explosion I could have someone run to in order to "defuse" it and fail miserably, would be great.  Probably something for the Engineers in their forum threads but I think they're still mad at me for my unsolvable EPROM problems.

English Andy
Posted: Friday, November 13, 2009 7:35 AM
Joined: 17/09/2008
Posts: 93

Just a quick note to let you know that large M/Ys I've been on do carry one or two body bags in amongst the medical gear!  Usually military spec, they will stop the body's juices from leaking out into the area a body is stored in.  Usually, you would empty a freezer before stowing the body inside to stop any cross contamination to food if the bag did leak!  Personally, I would lock the door if possible and keep the keep so that the body and evidence is preserved for the authorities once in port, logging the event in the official logbook aswell as preparing reports as soon as possible to record proceedings, which would then be annexed into the official log book!

The best way to blow up a 160ft yacht ........ good question well asked!  How about a missile attack from aircraft to get rid of the nasties onboard!?!?!  Gas isn't kept onboard in large quantities (a couple of bottles for gas BBQ perhaps!) - and diesel fuel has a flashpoint of 273 degrees C if my memory serves me right.  In plain english it won't catch light easily, so a fuel explosion is out of the question unless a good raging fire is in progress!!!

My favourite would be for the helicopter avaition fuel (jet A1 in engineering parlence) - flash point of 38 degrees C and autoignition of 210 degrees c ...... so that would require a good heat source, possibly by flare which uses a mixture of chemicals based on potassium and so would burn above the autoignition temperature and last for 30 to 40 seconds before the flare would run out!  Look on you tube for jet A1 fires for more info!

hope this helps.....




Posted: Friday, November 13, 2009 9:21 AM
Joined: 30/07/2009
Posts: 4

with respect,,, It is standard practice to lay them straight on their bed-sheet, towels under, head band over the eyes, covered. Most vessels carry O2 flasks, O2 + gas in an plastic-bag, ignited with a paper-wand that is an old trick, or you could use other ways to ignite. As for the dead, last update I did was more how to take care of the living, how to report, etc.
Posted: Friday, November 13, 2009 7:34 PM
Joined: 02/06/2008
Posts: 342

Take a look at this for "death at sea" procedures:

Flash point is the temperature a liquid will produce vapor that will ignite in the presence of a source of ignition. It is not the temperature it will continue to burn or self ignite. The flash point of marine diesel fuel is minimum 60 degrees C. Jet A  flash point is lower but at 38 C (~ 100 F) is still about the same as automotive diesel fuel. it is a kerosene fuel that is regularly substituted for diesel and is no more dangerous. Neither of those fuels are much of an explosion hazard in any form that is conceivable to create on a yacht so you would be hard pressed to blow up the boat using either one.

Most yachts carry a propane bottle or two for the barbecue grill. The standard tank for that use holds just a bit less than 5 US gallons of propane when full. If a full tank was allowed to leak off it would produce around 170 cubic feet of gas. The explosive range for a mixture of propane and air is just over 2 percent at the low end and just under 10 percent at the high end. Outside that range the mixture won't burn. So, for the sake of discussion, if that 20 pound can of propane was placed in a comppartment and the valve opened, it could, if the gas was mixed by being stirred up by a fan, produce a highly explosive 5 percent mixture that would occupy around 3500 cubic feet.

Find a way to touch that off ... a light switch or an engine room motor contactor opening to create a spark for instance ... and you would have a very powerful detonation that might fulfill many of your literary fantasies. Put an open bottle in each of several spaces and you could have a real film-worthy sequence of explosions that convert the yacht to heat and light in short order.

But ... not meaning to throw cold water on the plot ... you had better make sure your story line is credible and your technical bits are perfectly accurate or this story will fall flatter than a cheap inflatable boat on a cold day. You really ought to spend some time onboard a yacht the size you have in mind so you can understand what the characters are experiencing.

Posted: Friday, November 13, 2009 8:26 PM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1024

Hmmm. Blow up a yacht..easy....... route the yacht over top of a main artery undersea gas pipeline...a big one, like the Baltic Gazprom link or the Algerian link...set a small explosive charge off on the pipeline as the yacht passes overhead and the blast of gas aerated water should literally swallow the yacht.
Posted: Saturday, November 14, 2009 2:03 PM
Joined: 21/08/2008
Posts: 30

I had an uncle (he's now deceased) who was helping a friend do a trans-at on a small sail-boat many 20... years ago. Guy had a heart attack and died during a midnight watch. My uncle tried calling the coast guard and was told they would only respond if the body was warm. Since his friend was dead, he was on his own doing an unexpectedly solo, trans-at with a corpse. His friend was in rigor when he found him, so he dragged him down below and shut his body the head. He said he used a bailing bucket as a head for the rest of his trip. He did not go below deck again until he made port and spent the next week+ reciting the cremation of Sam Magee to himself trying to stay sane. Might be a bit off topic, but it is a true story.
Posted: Saturday, November 14, 2009 2:19 PM
Joined: 25/07/2008
Posts: 31

What to do with a dead guest on a yacht? Pretty simple actually. You gut the guest and then pack the cavity with ice from the bar. Stick him in the lazzarette and refresh ice as needed. Oh, and don't forget to max out his credit cards on the run in.


Best way to blow up a 160 foot yacht? Have the owner's wife dictate to the captain, every couple of hours, how he should manage the yacht's opreations. That would pretty much do it.

Posted: Saturday, November 14, 2009 2:54 PM
Joined: 10/07/2008
Posts: 7

The captain would take written and/or video interviews from all on board as to what happened. Finger prints and photographs would also be taken. Lots of boats have added deck freezers outside for extra storage. If there is a fishing component to your story one of these might be the bait freezer. Some modern large yachts have refridgerated garbage holds. Even a large cooler with block ice (frozen water jugs) or freezer packs could be used. If you were going to be away for an extended time and there was no way to keep the body(s). Then a video of a burial at sea could suffice as proof of death. Maritime Laws would apply. You could check USCG and MCA rules governing death at sea.
Posted: Saturday, November 14, 2009 3:03 PM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1024

Hmm...Not sure what you guys out in Lauderdale do with "Dead men" . It all Sounds so complicated and wasteful . I normally leave them standing upright in the forest until I find a need for one. Once a need arises I simply choose a suitable one, tall and thin , knock it down, cut the limbs off and taper its head with a chainsaw, drag the deadman behind my skiff to the needed location, grab a diesel powered fire pump, attach a 3 meter long steel pipe to the output stream , clamp the pipe to to the Dead mans tapered head, flip the Deadman upside down, wiggle it back and forth to drive the Deadmans head as far as I can into a mud bank, always feeding my wailing diesel fire pump preciuos fuel and using its trusty waterjet as a hole blower. Once the Deadman is correctly seated, deep in the mud bank, I chain saw him off at the knees, I drill a hole thru the deadmans stub, pass a cable thru the hole and tie my crab skiff to it. Not sure what Dr Ken says but I never find any need to refrigerate or cover a deadman,
Anna Wallace
Posted: Saturday, November 14, 2009 7:53 PM
Joined: 28/06/2009
Posts: 1

Under the ISM code yachts have one or two body bags with the medical gear. We do. I would clear out our walk in freezer and store the body there. You would be hard pressed to find a yacht of 160 feet that did not have a walk in freezer.
Posted: Saturday, November 14, 2009 8:28 PM
Junior, that was the funniest thing I have read for a long time, finally, you got off your motereyacht high-horse, plenty have been on those for 20+ years and are happy, but I doubt many of them could have come up with the multitude of ways of disposing of bodies that you did, well done, made me laugh.
Posted: Saturday, November 14, 2009 8:56 PM
Joined: 13/09/2009
Posts: 2

How about the dead body is four or five hundred pounds in weight, it's the owner an obese millionare who made his money from a chain of sweat shop factories in china.
No one onboard knows what to do as they have been hired for thier ability to look good and grovel as opposed to any kind of skill or training.
After two days they decide they must move the body as the stench is proving unbearable, so the first mate and engineer are given the task of shifting the body to the freezer.
In order reduce the offensiveness of the odour they both light cigarettes and lift the body and as they do the corpse releases 60 gallons of methane that had accumilated in it's lower intestine.
The gas is then ignited by the cigarette's and as all the doors were airlocked to reduce the foul odour the sudden expansion of the gas in the compressed space causes a huge explosion.

Posted: Saturday, November 14, 2009 9:43 PM
Joined: 10/11/2009
Posts: 1

Dr Ken
Posted: Saturday, November 14, 2009 9:52 PM
Joined: 08/07/2008
Posts: 23

Just in case a serious reply is needed! Chief was on the right track. WHO International Guide for Ships 3rd Edition 2007 pp 333-334, or The Ship's Captain's Medical Guide pp 205-207 22nd Edition, MCA 1999
Posted: Sunday, November 15, 2009 8:58 AM
Joined: 15/02/2009
Posts: 13

unless you have a chef who does not mind having a dead body in one of his cells, have two options.

Option is where everything which has no specially assigned space ends up ... the Captains's cabin

Option n. two, my personal farourit, body bag, lower a tender, put the body in and tow him behind .....

Capt. Armando

Posted: Sunday, November 15, 2009 9:50 AM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1024

Ive often wonder what to do if, for instance, the owner passes away in his sleep while we are sailing. Who is the first person you contact ? The owners family ? The owners private Secretary ? The owners lawyer ? The IBNA regional crew boss ? Say you were sailing in the Black Sea and the the death occurred equidistant from Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey. Obviously when you enter port you will be talking to the Police and the Yacht will be detained until a ruling has been made. Obviously you want the owners privacy and dignity to be maintained. Who are you going to call first when seeking this critical information. What party do you as captain bring in the protect yourself and your crew ?
Posted: Sunday, November 15, 2009 1:18 PM
Surely there is a protocol for the captain's, that they notify the coast guard where ever they are and then it will be taken out of their hands... I dont think this has anything to do with crew at all!!!
Posted: Sunday, November 15, 2009 1:47 PM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1024

Our job as captains is to make the rules as we see fit and stay out of trouble . Protocol ???? Thats what Im asking you guys. For those of us who live in the shadow of the Genoa, "death of owner, guest " protcol is known. Im not sure what they teach you in the Dockwalk Captains Hideout but IBNA rules for the protection of past, present and future BN's are explicit. As soon as it has been determined that your owner, the potatoe chip tycoon Willard Lay's , upper lip has permanently stiffened and that he has gone to the big superyacht show in the sky, you immediated fire of a sat com message to the regional IBNA crew boss with the message....."SQUEEZE THE LEMON " followed by "NASDAQ" tiker symbol " CHIPBBQ ". The regional IBNA crew boss picks up the incoming on his mobile and resends the txt....SQUEEZE THE LEMON NASDAG CHIPBBQ. to all known BN's so that they may notify their fund managers, liquidate cash holdings and profit from SHORT selling CIPBBG shares, before the wire services pick up on Mr. Potatoe chips unfortunate demise. Only then do you notify the owners personal secratary because she will be the sole person with a cool head, , free of family wealth skulduggery, able to advise on future comunications and protect your salt encrusted ass from all those rules that you forgot to learn...
Posted: Sunday, November 15, 2009 5:52 PM
Dr Ken is very much correct. However, when I completed my Ship Captain's Medical, the Instructor said due to practical issues the body cannot be stored in the walk-in fridge or freezer, due to cross-contamination. She also said that the Coast Guard and other authorities would possibly like to conduct an investigation, and therefore freezing the body is not an option, because that might damage any "evidence" in case of possible foul play. She therefore suggested that you fill up the Master Jacuzzi with ice and water and place the body (in a body bag) in the jacuzzi. Of course you must refresh the ice until you arrive in port. And yes, most yachts abiding by MCA Medical procedures, will carry one or two body bags on board.