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Open Reply: Big Changes with Small Thinking

Adrian Croft 140

An open reply to Captain Rod Hatch's article:

Big Changes with Small Thinking

Part 2: Perspectives on Safety in Yachting

Captain Adrian Croft:

Morning Rod, thanks for the very interesting article, as always well laid out and appreciated. I have some comments to add.


It is true that in the luxury yacht sector there is currently little public access (if any at all) to reports on our accidents/near misses that could be used to review and improve SOP/training industry wide. This issue was also recently raised by Steve Monk of Da Gama in his article "When will we learn" (SYR178) concerning the grounding of several yachts at considerable loss, where the following investigation and any lessons learned were intentionally kept out of the public domain.

Imagine if this was successfully achieved in the larger maritime world, would international conventions such as SOLAS, MARPOL and ISM ever have been enacted? If all Admiralty Court ship casualty cases were kept from the public domain, publications such as Collisions/Groundings and their Causes would have been impossible to compile. Where would MAIB be if there was an industry wide muzzle policy on the reporting of accidents and near misses?

Those of us in the luxury yacht sector who endorse this muzzling policy are doing our sector long term harm, especially where lessons learned are being denied for general propagation for the good of all. Surely we could adopt the MAIB policy of not publicly naming those involved in such incidents.

With regards to Safety Committee Meetings under ISM, I was under the impression that these shipside meetings were required to be held between 4-6 weeks, not three months as stated. My experience is that they are generally held every month onboard, being easier to incorporate into a vessel's monthly safety planning schedule.

With regards to the point raised that yacht accidents are more often related to a slip-up in safety procedures rather than the way they did things onboard, my experience, more often than not, is that an accident is related to the way they did things ordinarily, and it was only by serendipity that the accident did not happen earlier.

For example, on a recent vessel on which I took relief command, whenever the crew needed access to storage under interior walkways, they had to open up floor hatches creating an exposed opening. There were no procedures in place for this operation and no means of protection stipulated or provided. The safety culture and awareness onboard was lacking, and it took several attempts to get this bad practice eliminated. It was only by daily walking around the vessel to observe work in action that again, by serendipity, a safety issue was observed. And there were a few more on that yacht.

A good start towards a collective improvement in safety culture and safety awareness would be for the crew to watch the video 'Lost Youth' (below) where four young individuals who had work-related accidents tell their stories on the impact these tragic and avoidable accidents have had on their lives. It is sobering viewing.

VIDEO: Lost Youth

What are the principles of a good safety culture?

  • Everyone is to be respected and entitled to trust.

  • Emphasis on use of toolbox talks and adopting an attitude amongst fellow crew members of being your brother’s/sister’s keeper (adopt a buddy), looking out for each other in matters of safety, use of equipment and mentoring of other crew, especially those new to the working environment onboard. 

  • Leaders must demonstrate a commitment to safety, emphasizing that where crew take short cuts or violate procedure it is not accepted.

  • Decision making must reflect safety first.

  • A questioning attitude should be encouraged.

  • Organizational learning must be embraced and there should be a constant re-examination with (and within) the organization.

  • People are key to safety so good communications are vital.

  • Leaders must be accessible at all times, with an open door policy, and leaders must be seen out and about at all levels of an organization. Don’t hide in the office, one day it will hugely impact your career and professional standing.

How long does it take for a safety culture to become embedded?

It can take years to create a strong safety culture and it’s a continuing process that must involve all levels of the organization. A possible weakness in a risk assessment concerns the ability to detect whether front end crew are being ‘mindful’ and remain focused on the job.

As a practical example, once I’ve signed off a crew member to work aloft on the mast, if they disconnect from a “work restraint” it would be difficult for me to monitor. In this situation, if front end crew don’t feel they are in the right mindset to work aloft (illness, family/emotional issues) they must advise us as we can't read their minds! The danger is, without a genuine appreciation of the hazards and risks and the imagination to engage with them, a risk assessment can be nothing more than a fantasy document with no bearing on the reality.

Another example: How does wearing a hard hat turn a hazard from intolerable to acceptable in the case of walking under a raised heavy object such as a tender?

I believe it would be in the interest of any insurance underwriter/yacht manager to invest annually in the services of a specialist contractor to spend time onboard (in port and underway) to assess the levels of safety in all areas. The cost of such an annual assessment is a fraction of the yearly premiums paid, and far less than the payout on a tragic accident that could have been easily avoided. Imagine how many Navigation Assessments by such experts could have been paid for by the losses of the Costa Concordia. As Steve Monk stated....When will we learn??

Best regards,

Adrian Croft MBA, AFNI, Navigation Assessor/NI

Please add your comments or contact Adrian directly via 'Contact Author' below.

About the Author
Adrian Croft is an experienced seafarer having served as master on both private and commercial operated yachts, cruising extensively in the Mediterranean, USA East Coast, West Indies, South Pacific and Indian Ocean for over two decades before which, he served in his formative years as a deck officer on general cargo vessels and large passenger carrying tall ships.

Adrian currently holds a Marshall Islands Master Unlimited Tonnage CoC (Yachts-Passenger Yachts), MBA in Shipping & Logistics (issued with Merit) Middlesex University/Lloyds Maritime Academy, Certificate in Naval Architecture Lloyds Maritime Academy, Lead Auditor ISM Lloyds Register, Project Management Registered Practitioner Prince2®, and is certified as a Navigation Assessor. Adrian is also an elected council member of the Professional Yachting Association and the Nautical Institute. For fun he holds a FAA pilot's license for general aviation aircraft, helicopter, seaplane and glider. 

Currently Adrian is actively looking for a new command or challenging shore-side position in the luxury yacht sector.

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