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This is a NAUTICAL LOG article. It serves as informational guidance only. To operate a vessel you must refer to, understand and follow the Rules as published by your particular Government in compliance to IMO Regulations and SOLAS.

Reading in other maritime Blogs which republish a variety of reports and watching the so called news media, NAUTICAL LOG has noticed something worth commenting on. Many times it seems after an incident it transpires that the passengers were not informed or did not understand the Safety Instructions. Also quite often in the photos passengers are sitting and are equipped inappropriately. With a background in Cruise Ships and many years as a Safety Officer in them I thought perhaps it would be helpful to write a Post on that subject.

First lets have a look at the background Legislation. It begins with the requirements resulting from the IMCO SOLAS Conferences starting in the 1950's. Here in the United States the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the Law that covers maritime affairs. Specifically CFR Title 46 Volume 71, Cite: 46CFR185.506 'Passenger safety orientation'. Today it continues and is much more Internationally standardized with the UN IMO Regulations. Passenger drills are mandatory and the principle points in which passengers should be instructed are;

  • Muster Stations
  • location of emergency exits, survival craft embarkation areas, ring lifebuoys
  • stowage location of life jackets
  • the proper way of donning these by demonstration
  • location of all instruction placards for both life jackets and lifesaving devices
  • all passengers must then don the life jackets and crew check them out
  • passengers must understand to exactly follow crew instructions at all times
  • man overboard procedure, which is;
  • toss a life ring
  • signal for help
  • keep your eyes on the m-o-b
  • point the direction when help responds
  • an awareness that hearing-impaired passengers fully understand all these instructions
  • additional particular instructions for your vessel

Now this is really no problem for a cruise ship to accomplish as there are professional Safety and Cruise staff. In addition to their training in instructing and demonstrating equipment to the passengers, the shipboard TV has a Safety Channel. This Channel is often the only one operating when passengers are boarding the vessel. At departure, prior too or just after letting go from the berth, a Boat Drill for passengers is signalled. All passengers must then proceed to their particular Muster Station and are fully instructed by Officers and Cruise Staff already waiting at the Muster Stations. The Safety Officer visits all the Muster Stations introduces him/her self and confirms that the Safety Procedure is understood. Except for the Cruise Staff the Safety Officer often becomes the best known Officer to passengers or as they are known these days 'Guests'. So far so good !

But what happens on all those ferries, day cruisers, adventure boats and such like. Well clearly this is where the real problems often start and passengers end up completely uninformed with no idea what to do in an emergency. Add in a small staff not very experienced in dealing with passengers in an emergency or with effective leadership qualities. Together this is a recipe for disaster and sadly they occur every year everywhere that vessels operate. So lets go through some points together and see if we can improve small passenger boat safety and also enhance your maritime business with a good safety reputation.

Whether you are the Coxswain of a six pack boat, or a fifteen person or more adventure RHIB, or Captain a small cruise/tour ship you must develop, understand and follow a 'Safety Procedure' designed for your particular vessel. Dive boats will have to be particularly careful as you are required to follow the same procedures as a small cruise/tour boat but then later your persons will change into dive gear. Thus divers have two sets of problems to solve, and clearly separate persons as Coxswain and Divemaster are highly desirable.

It is not always easy to instruct people in a public speaking atmosphere but it can and must be developed. It is helpful to print out a simple checklist, sealed in plastic, as an aide-memoire to keep you on track while giving the Safety Instructions. You will also have to decide if you are going to give the Safety Instructions on board the vessel or on the dock. From experience NAUTICAL LOG would suggest that small cruise/tour boats do this on board their vessel. For the 'six pack' and RHIB's it is better done on the dock, then your passengers will know how to board a small boat and be equipped properly to do so. All safety equipment, such as protective suits, exposure suits, life jackets (the term PFD's has thankfully been dropped from usage) must be donned, checked by the Instructor and worn by all passengers at all times. Just recently a person fell overboard at the dock and was lost. There is an old and wise saying "fools, firemen and first trippers sit on the rail" the 'firemen' here of course referred to the engine room crew. Most unkind !!

Now having decided on your vessel's 'Safety Procedure' and where to locate to give these instructions, what do you need to cover? In a small craft it is necessary to cover more points than those Cruise Superships. It is a good idea to have a demonstration set, these are available as 'blanks' from manufacturers. So here is a suggested Coxswain's orientation list;

  • locate life jackets explain and demonstrate how to use them
  • explain usage and demonstrate donning of exposure suits, protective suits and such
  • have all passengers don them and continue to wear them at all times in open boats
  • remember if you carry children you will need 'childs' size safety equipment
  • locate the Signalling equipment and how to use them
  • locate fire extinguishers and explain their use
  • point out the 'First Aid Kit', ask if you have medical persons as passengers. Explain 'Good Samaritan Law'
  • point out the Oil Pollution Card and MARPOL Card explain those Rules
  • point out the anchor and what and how it is used
  • explain the Radio equipment usage
  • explain passenger duties in an emergency or heavy weather
  • explain casting off and coming alongside and keeping hands inboard
  • explain what will be done if you lose an engine or steering
  • man overboard procedure;
  • toss a life ring
  • signal for help
  • keep your eyes on the m-o-b
  • point the direction when help responds
  • an awareness that hearing-impaired passengers fully understand all these instructions
  • additional particular instructions for your vessel

So there you are, some thoughts and points to think on and address. There is a lot more to it all than I expect many of you have thought about. Believe me it is necessary to address all the above as an absolute minimum. If anything does go wrong you will be asked about these and a lot more questions by both the Investigators and later the Courts. There are lives in your hands and whether it is one or two thousand that life is your responsibility. So lets have professional Passenger Orientation.

Holders of the new United States Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC), the passport style document, 46 USC 7110 REQUIRES YOU TO DISPLAY THE OFFICER ENDORSEMENT PAGE. NAUTICAL LOG has updated its Post - NAVIGATION UNDER PILOTAGE, U.S. Credential - with the USCG letter of instruction.

Good Watch


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