How a Mini-ISM Can Save Your Hide

3 June 2008By Peter Baker

In the mood for a nightmare? Consider these scary scenarios:

• The yacht captain’s laptop battery sets fire to his bunk and a faulty smoke detector fails to detect it.
• You throw the one life raft overboard in an emergency and it floats away because the painter was not attached after it came back from servicing.
• A generator catches fire when the rest of the crew is ashore celebrating the chief’s birthday. The watchkeeper has no idea how to use the CO2 system.
• While leaving harbor, a small boat is on a collision course with your yacht. You push the horn only to find the compressed air is shut off.
• The new deckhand takes the tender ashore at night and forgets to switch on the navigation light. He hits a small sailboat’s rowing dinghy with a family on board, at high speed.
• A charter guest (let’s call him a New York lawyer) slips and breaks an ankle on the first day of a charter. He arrives home and sues the yacht owner for running an unsafe yacht because the captain never gave a safety briefing.

Think it can’t happen on your yacht? Think again…

When it comes to safety regulations, what may seem overbearing may actually save your hide if you follow the rules. This is where the Mini-ISM comes in handy.

What’s a Mini-ISM? It’s a horrible name for a remarkable plan that could mean the difference between dealing with a disaster or compounding a disaster via lawsuits against you, the yacht owner and any number of other parties.

Mini-ISM is a requirement of both the MCA and Marshall Islands commercial yacht codes of practice. It applies to all yachts over 300 tons and many smaller yachts depending on their flag. As a Safety Management System (SMS), the Mini-ISM should not be “mini,” but compact and appropriate to the size and operations of the yacht.

A Mini-ISM consists of a simple plan to:
• Check and maintain all the safety and critical equipment on board
• Train the crew for the more likely emergencies that yachts can have
• Familarize new crew on safety awareness and duties as soon as they join
• Have checklists for hazardous events, such as bunkering and leaving harbor
• Encourage safety awareness
• Ensure that those who drive tenders, watercraft, or are charged with bridge watchkeeping really are qualified and know the idiosyncrasies of the equipment they are operating
• Document what you do and plan to do to cover your a** if investigated.

That’s just a brief outline of what the SMS should cover and it would normally consist of a concise manual showing the procedures and policies. In addition there would be laminated checklists and Excel spreadsheets to document dates of drills, maintenance done, etc.

Many captains have already set up parts of a Safety Management System in their Standing Orders, but it is best to separate the ISM into a stand-alone manual, perhaps letting the mate be the safety officer responsible for implementing your plan.

There is no requirement to have a shore based “Designated Person Ashore” as mandated by the full ISM on over-500 ton yachts, but there should be someone reliable ashore with a list of crew and next of kin, data on the yacht, phone numbers of critical contacts such as insurers, flag states, surveyors, etc.

Several companies are now providing this manual, often in a basic form, which allows the captain to modify it to his own style and integrate existing procedures.

Finally, it is no good simply to have the manual on board. The procedures must be followed and documented. Flag surveyors will be looking for proof that you run your yacht safely and that the crew are competent to look after those pampered guests on board. Guests quickly realize they are being properly taken care of and return the effort with a good report to the charter broker and, hopefully, a healthy gratuity.

Peter Baker is the president of Megayacht Technical Services (MTS). The Fort Lauderdale-based company provides all types of regulatory documentation and management. His worldwide team supports captains and crew with the answers to all aspects of vessel operation.