Going on Board for Your Hitch: The Dangers of Boarding a Vessel

One of the most overlooked dangers for maritime workers is actually one they face at the beginning of their hitch: boarding the vessel. The transferring of personnel to and from a vessel while at sea can be hazardous, especially when handled incorrectly. The International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) states that before a personnel transfer occurs, all parties involved should be briefed about the method of transfer, as well as the equipment that is being used. It is important that all parties are physically capable of successfully boarding the vessel—and the employer’s responsibility to check this.

Prior to transfer, there should be a risk assessment that includes the following questions:

  • How many personnel are involved?
  • What are the weather and sea conditions like?
  • What is the vessel movement like?
  • Is there adequate lighting near the transfer operation?
  • What are the potential slip & fall hazards?
  • Are the main vessel and all involved boats seaworthy?
  • Is the equipment being used in good condition?

Individuals involved in a crew transfer should be adequately trained. From crane operators and crews of small boats to gangway operators and dockside staff, there are countless parties involved in crew transfers. Whether there are 3 crew members or 13, proper safety procedures and equipment must be used when gaining access to any vessel.

Most Common Types of Personnel Transfer

Some of the most common transfer equipment that can cause accidents include unsafe gangways, crew baskets, Jacob’s ladders, and damaged steps.

The most common types of personnel transfer include:

  • Small Boat or Launch: These transfers involve boats that are small enough to be stowed away on a larger vessel, platform, barge, or offshore structure. To avoid potential dangers, coxswain need to ensure the boat is operational, make all necessary emergency equipment available onboard, and make lifebelts and heaving lines available.
  • Crew Boat or Support Vessel: In some cases, vessel-to-vessel transfer is accomplished with a slightly larger boat, sometimes referred to as a "crew boat." When embarking and disembarking, both vessels should be kept as stable / still as possible and supervised correctly.
  • Personnel Transfer Basket: There are three main types of personnel transfer baskets: Billy Pugh, ESVAGT, and a personnel transfer capsule. Basket transfers are dangerous and should only be considered when no other option is feasible. Crane operators should be fully trained and the crane checked to ensure it is fully operational. Basket transfers should only be done in suitable weather conditions.
  • Gangways, Bridges, and Accommodation Ladders: These are often used in vessel-to-vessel transfers, as well as in transfers from one offshore structure to another. As there are a wide variety of gangways and accommodation ladders, it is important to ensure that the one being used is made of quality material and has both non-slip walkways and handrails. Appropriate safety nets should also be used if there is the possibility of a fall.

Transfer to Vessel by Helicopter

One of the most common, albeit dangerous, methods of transferring personnel to an offshore vessel is by helicopter. This can be a practical and efficient; however, due to weather conditions, poorly maintained equipment, and loss of control, it can lead to severe—even fatal—accidents. According to the Helicopter Safety Advisory Conference (HSAC), there have been 20 helicopter accidents in the last five years in the Gulf of Mexico, causing more than 15 fatalities and nine injuries.

Leading causes of maritime helicopter accidents can include:

  • Engine Failure
  • Loss of Control
  • Improper Procedures
  • Helideck Obstacle Strikes
  • Controlled Flight into Terrain
  • Technical Failures

The leading cause of death in helicopter crash cases is the impact of the crash itself. In some cases, crashes that occurred over the ocean resulted in drowning deaths, which the Centers for Disease Control still consider to be helicopter fatalities.

Injured While Going on Board for Your Hitch? We Can Help!

If you were injured during a vessel-to-vessel transfer, in an offshore helicopter accident, or while crossing a gangway, Arnold & Itkin can help. Over the last 5 years, we have recovered billions in verdicts and settlements. Learn more about how our offshore injury lawyers can help you in the wake of a serious accident—contact us today.

Call us at (888) 346-5024 for a free case evaluation.

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