Drilled into Memory: Safety drills on board

12 August 2010 By Louisa Cowan
Photo by Mark O'Connell

In a matter of minutes, an onboard fire can get completely out of control. The crew must be able to respond at speed. If a guest or crewmember goes overboard, a rescue operation must be executed quickly to have the best chance of recovering the victim alive. Should your vessel spring a leak, your crew has to know what they are doing in order to keep the boat afloat. This industry can be more dangerous than it appears. There are hazards around every corner and to stay safe on board you have to be sure that you and your fellow crewmembers know what to do in an emergency.

Safety drills are a common part of every boats routine and if they aren’t, then they should be. We all hope that a drill will be only a drill, but knowing what to do in an emergency saves lives, be it yours or someone else’s. Here are some top tips on how to ensure you get the most out of a safety drill:

1. Practice makes perfect. This well-known saying could be the difference between life and death when it comes to connecting a fire hose or launching a life raft.

Capt. Scott from M/Y Party Girl says, “I find the best practice is to make safety drills a part of the weekly/monthly routine. A recent routine started with my crew is Monday morning drills. The idea on commercial vessels (which should also be the case on yachts) is that the more drills conducted the more routine they become; thus removing the human factor and creating a mechanical response in any given situation or emergency.”

2. Know your stuff. Throughout your yachting career you will receive varying levels of safety training from sea survival to first aid, but keeping these skills fresh could prove to be invaluable in an emergency.

“Recently, I was running a drill during which the crew role play. [In this drill,] a lot of the crew had been seriously injured, including the boats medical officer,” says Capt. Nick. “Our allocated deputy [medical officer] had to step up to the mark. I asked her to talk me through the CPR procedure. It was fairly obvious that she had forgotten much of the basics and I realized that refresher courses should be part of our training schedule.”

3. Raise everyone’s interest. Getting everyone involved in the safety drills is one thing, but actually spreading the responsibility over the other crewmembers can work well too.

“I am in charge of all the safety aspects of the boat,” says Mate Andy on S/Y California. “Although the captain has the ultimate responsibility, I coordinate drills, crew briefings and de-briefs and maintain the safety equipment we have onboard. It makes sense that there is more than one person on board who knows exactly how to manage an emergency.”

4. Variety is the spice of life. Keeping drills interesting is going to make them memorable and so increase their long-term impact.

Capt.Scott says, “I like two approaches; the first is planned training, announced on the notice board a day in advance. For me it is a Monday morning. The second is having surprise drills, generally an hour or so once underway for longer trips (over 24 hours).” He goes on to say, “When it comes to training I have found anything different from the routine of polishing, ironing or all the other glamorous duties we have, crew are eager to learn and participate.”

So, make drills a regular part of your working life, learn and remember onboard emergency procedures so they become second nature to you and most of all…stay safe.