The Dockwalk Guide to Yacht Tender Safety

2 May 2021By Ted Morley
Bugsy Gedlek/Boat International

Written by

Ted Morley

Capt. Ted Morley was raised aboard a schooner and has made a career working on board vessels ranging from superyachts to super tankers. During his tenure at sea, he worked his way up from seaman to master. He currently holds a USCG Master’s License, Unlimited Tonnage as well as several foreign certificates. Capt. Morley actively participates in maritime advisory committees in the U.S. as well as overseas and is involved in regulatory policy review in the U.S.. 

Tender operations and safety are key components to any yacht’s training program. There’s been an uptick in accidents involving tenders, which include mishaps during towing, launch and recovery, coming alongside, guest embarkation/disembarkation, and general issues like inadequate life jackets and faulty safety equipment.

Critical times include setting up the towline, paying out the towline, transitioning crew between the tender and the yacht, and working the towline. Crew can easily get caught up in the bight of a towline paying out and be dragged right off the deck before anyone can help. Keeping your feet flat and firmly on the deck, and not standing near the line, will help mitigate that risk while you deploy the towline.

Clear communications are a vital part to the effort, so make sure the captain knows when the tender is at full stream and if it is towing well. Crane or davit operations are another area of high risk — make sure everyone is aware of the operations, proper hand signals, and clear voice commands. Ensure tag lines are used and lead to a suitable location that allows the deck crew to keep control of the tender as it’s lowered or raised over the side.

Crane or davit operations are another area of high risk — make sure everyone is aware of the operations, proper hand signals, and clear voice commands. 

The various regulatory bodies around the world mandate a minimum level of powerboat skills for all operators but as tenders have gotten bigger and faster, regulations have been hard-pressed to keep up. With the increased popularity of far-off destinations, we’re seeing more guests having to tender into remote ports and beaches. Moving guests on or off the tender is very dangerous. Guests may not be used to the vessel’s movement or the timing of the waves. You must make sure they know when it’s safe to move around the tender and when they can embark/disembark. Falling between the yacht and the tender, or the dock and the tender, is sure to cause injury and potentially much more.

Life jackets and safety equipment on board must be checked and rechecked. Be familiar with any laws or local regs. Sufficient child/infant life jackets are a must-have item and must be properly equipped with whistles and lights. Equally important are VHF radios, ground tackle, dock lines, fenders, fire extinguishers, lighting, etc.

I was once at anchor and watched a tender loaded with guests run out of fuel. We launched one of our RIBs to tow them to their yacht. Don’t be the one that takes the tender and forgets to check fuel!

Tenders require the same level of professionalism and attention that the main yacht does. For many guests, it may be their first or last impression of their experience aboard — and of you as a crew.

This column is taken from the March 2021 issue of Dockwalk.

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