On the Job

17 Safety Signs You Can’t Overlook

27 January 2023 By Gavin Rothenburger
An illustration showing a paper boat filled with people heading into a large wave on the ocean.
iStock/Nuthawut Somsuk

Gavin Rothenburger has been the author of Dockwalk’s humor column Last Laugh since 2008. For questions, concerns, or for general badmouthing, you can write to me at gavinrothenburger@yahoo.com.

Being on a boat in the middle of the ocean at the mercy of the fickle weather’s whims brings with it inherent risks. It’s the job of the crew to mitigate these as best we can. But, what’s a risk for some isn’t a problem for another. So how do we know when the boat we’re working on might just be a little too unsafe? A few thoughts:

1. When it’s mostly always on fire. “It always gets put out,” you’re told. “And normally with few dead and hardly any injuries.” It’s a safe bet that it’s not safe.

2. When you’re told that the hellish blue sparks you see every time you pass the engine room is just normal operating procedure.

3. If, any more than once, you’ve arrived home after a pleasant evening out and had to step around police tape and chalk outlines to get to your cabin.

iStock/Jong-eun Kim

4. When anyone other than the chef is continuously seen sharpening a meat cleaver and muttering something incoherent about “Precious,” then something bad is going to happen. Okay. Definitely include the chef in this too.

5. When you open a locker in the bridge and find a collection of various sized, blood-stained straitjackets.

6. When you discover that your boat contains life-rafts, flares, line-launchers, satellite signaling devices, rescue transponders, immersion suits, firefighting suits, helmets, emergency meals, and survival radios. My God! Where is this survivalist hellscape of a boat going and what do they think is going to happen?!

7. When you find a box in the first aid locker labelled “Captain’s Methadone, Do Not Touch!” and your first thought is, “What about everyone else?”

8. If you’ve been offered health insurance when taking the job only to find out it’s no longer available because too many large claims have already been made.

iStock/Muhammad Farhad

9. If the mold problem in the ductwork is finally so out of control that the hordes of roaches you were told had been brought in to mitigate it can no longer keep up.

10. If the guy from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch is on a first-name basis with the captain and shows up saying, “What is it this time?”

11. If, when joining, you’re handed a package containing a radio, uniform, and firearm and told to label it so it doesn’t get mixed up with everybody else’s.

12. When the first time you meet the owners, they run aboard with jackets over their heads and are escorted by a team of people wearing body armor emblazoned with the boat’s logo.

13. When the mate starts complaining to you that if the captain’s allowed to be drunk every day, then “Why can we only have whiskey with lunch some of the time?” 


14. If, after work hours, you see the engineer both sober and, suddenly, being nice to people. You know something’s gone horribly and lethally wrong.

15. If you’re being fitted with a large, yellow HAZMAT suit because, you’re told, it’s just kinda normal PPE on board.

16. If any of the crew have been in yachting for 30 or more years. You know there’s no possible way they could be anything close to a balanced individual and, really, the fact that they haven’t snapped yet is a small miracle.

17. If ever you find out you’ve been hired because you look exactly like the owner’s child and overhear anything resembling, “We’d better send the body double on this one.”

All things in life can be dangerous and we never know what’s around the corner. We all have our limits and if ever you feel yours is being reached, then the answer is simple: take your methadone and go home.


More from Dockwalk