How to Protect Yacht Crew Taking Care of the Yacht

23 March 2023 By Patrick Levitzke
polishing boat stock

Patrick Levitzke is from Port Macquarie, Australia. He left in 2019 to begin yachting, and found his first job on a private 82-foot Horizon, cruising the U.S. East Coast, with just the captain. Currently, he’s a deckhand on a 210-foot private yacht and has plans to complete his 200-ton license this year.

Most of our day on deck is spent maintaining and upholding the yacht's value. A yacht is constantly taking a beating under the elements, whether it be her multimillion-dollar paint job or her 20-times-coated varnished capping rails. Just look at the most sun-exposed teak areas or older furniture covers for evidence - wind, salt, and sun are all daily constants, and it goes without saying that the elements are harsh.

We are simultaneously exposed to the same elements. So, how should we best protect ourselves, as well as the yacht? We learn about personal protective equipment (PPE) in STCW, but it isn't just task-specific. PPE is what we use to battle daily exposure to the elements and from the job. In yachting, there can be an "I don't need PPE, I'm too good/tough for that" mentality, and if you're hearing that from your deck seniors, it's an immediate red flag. Greenies are vulnerable to this mindset; they want to prove themselves, particularly if they don't come from a tradeoriented background. Safety is one of an officer's key responsibilities, and if PPE is being rejected, it's plain misconduct.

If you're a watersports-heavy boat spending long Caribbean months on anchor with toys out, the deck crew should be outfitted with long-sleeve rash shirts, broad-brimmed hats, and good quality, polarized sunglasses as part of the charter uniform. If you spend summers in the Caribbean as well, you'll be wanting to invest in a Buff or some neckwear. Sunscreen won't cut it. A Buff will also protect against wind.

Almost any job during a yard period requires PPE. To start with the basics, wash your hands thoroughly before meals, and make sure to shower when the work is done - you're going to be dealing with varnish, cleaning chemicals, rust, and sawdust, and you don't want to be eating or sleeping with that on you.

The common jobs will likely be varnishing, painting, sanding, and some humble bilge work. For sanding work, you'll be wanting at least a particle or dust mask with an N 95 rating or above (meaning it filters 95 percent of one-micrometer particles from the air). For painting, varnishing, and bilge work, you'll need a respirator as it's not just dust particles you want protection from but fumes. Respirators are carbon-filtering, meaning they'll absorb gases and filter particles.

Ideally you should wear long sleeves to minimize skin exposure to paints and products; gloves and enclosed shoes are the standard. If you're on the tools (e.g., Dremel, sanding, and grinding), eye and ear protection is an absolute must.

PPE is not just to protect you from immediate dangers, but long-term dangers as well. While you might not notice anything if you skip out on the dust mask a few times, you can't replace your lungs or hearing. Take care of the boat, and take care of yourself.

This article originally ran in the January 2023 issue of Dockwalk.


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