Sobering man overboard lesson

Image used for illustration purposes only
Image used for illustration purposes only

At the recent Seawork Connect online event, the Workboat Association and British Tugowners Association Safety Forum at Seawork Connect gave details about a real-life man overboard (MOB) incident. Shaun Mansbridge, Safety Manager at Williams Shipping, described a situation that occurred within Willliams’ pilot vessel fleet, fortunately with a happy outcome, but which could have gone the other way.

A 13m pilot launch with two crewmembers aboard – skipper and deckhand – was delivering onsigners to a ship at the Nab Anchorage in the Solent, UK. It was Autumn with fine weather and light seas and an estimated water temperature of 13-15 degrees Celsius. The onsigning crew all safely ascended the pilot boarding ladder to the deck. The deckhand started passing the suitcases up while the pilot boat’s skipper kept the vessel on station. Unfortunately, the deckhand got a finger trapped in the handle of one of the bags, which the onsigned crew had hold of, and a drop of the pilot boat at that moment due to swell caused the deckhand to be lifted clear of the deck and placed, momentarily dangling, in a danger area between the two hulls.

The skipper had no choice but to reverse the pilot launch clear to lessen the mortal danger the deckhand was in, and the deckhand very quickly dropped from the suitcase into the water. Although a non-swimmer, the deckhand was in a lifejacket and appropriate safety clothing. The lifejacket auto inflated without any issues.

The tide soon removed the casualty clear of the ship, and the pilot launch skipper put the vessel into a safe place to perform a recovery and shut down the engines, and issued a Mayday. An accidental MOB in any circumstances is always a Mayday.

The sobering lesson of this experience was learnt when the skipper attempted to remove the MOB from the water using the ladder sling onboard the vessel. The skipper, despite being fit and in his mid 30s, was unable to retrieve the 15 stone deckhand further than just clear of the waterline. Soon the deckhand’s strength had been sapped to the extent that he was no longer able to aid in his own rescue. The happy ending came when crew aboard the ship they were servicing saw their predicament and launched its rescue craft with two crew aboard, one of whom was able to help the skipper pull the deckhand to safety.

Essential learnings
The immediate learning for Williams Shipping, in this case, was to fit all vessels in the fleet with a davit and winch system rated to 250kgs, enough for the lightest possible crew member to easily extract the heaviest possible crew member from the water. Shaun went on to say that davits were his big recommendation for all similar operators.

The two Associations have recently partnered on a poster campaign to provide an easily digestible heads-up on a few simple MOB dos and don’ts to workboat crews.

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