The water was sparkling like a thousand diamonds in the early morning sun rising over the quiet anchorage. The guests were arriving up on deck, enjoying their first coffee while starting another day in paradise. The deck crew just received instructions to put the personal watercraft in the water; the guests will want to go play after their breakfast.
The two crewmembers made their way forward on the deck of the 45m (147 ft) yacht. Just as they had done a hundred times before, the two crew started releasing the tie-downs on the watercraft. "John" attached the controller to the davit while "Charlie" brought the lifting harness up out of the chain locker, and attached it to the gunnels of the watercraft. Swinging the davit overhead, Charlie climbed aboard the watercraft straddling the seat while holding the lifting harness in-place while John hoisted the cable, bringing the rig taught above Charlie. Slowly, carefully lifting the PWC above the deck, Charlie balanced on the seat to ride the watercraft to the water.
Certainly it was safer to follow the existing ISM procedure of putting the jet ski into the water without a rider, but it took time to walk the watercraft aft to the boarding gate. Far easier to just ride the PWC to the water, as far as Charlie was concerned. John didn't give it a second thought. By now Charlie was out over the water, ready to lower the PWC, when the unexpected happened.
A loud snapping sound echoed out across the water as one leg of the lifting sling parted. Six hundred kilos of watercraft and crew suddenly breaking free, the bow of the watercraft pitching up, the gunnels sliding through the harness as the small craft falls almost four meters to the water below, Charlie close behind. The impact with the water was heard across the anchorage as Charlie simultaneously impacted the handlebars with his chest. The outcome of this event was most unfortunate.
The above is a fictional scenario based upon recent events that actually occurred, and points to the fact that tender-launching is serious business. Serious injury, and sometimes even death, occurs on boats more frequently than we like to believe, and the tasks of tender-launching may be one of the most dangerous jobs on the vessel. It is important for owners, captains and crew to all appreciate the serious nature of launching a boat from another vessel, at sea, with the dynamic forces that occur naturally at sea in play.
Most professionally-crewed yachts designate specific crew to the task of tender-handling, with a formal training program in place. Usually crewmembers will start as part of the tender-control crew well before ever having the responsibility of controlling the launching crane.
This professional crew typically maintain an EDH (Efficient Deck Hand) certificate, with specific training documented to support their duties on board.
Other vessels, often owner-operated, may take a more cavalier approach to using the davit system installed on board, sometimes allowing other guests and even children to operate the davit.
Professionally crewed, class-compliant vessels will typically maintain ISM (International Safety Management) written standard operating procedures for various systems on board the vessel, the tender-launching equipment included.
These are written and reviewed procedures specific for the equipment installed on board that particular yacht. One 'standard' document is typically insufficient, as yachts often incorporate unique, integrated equipment designs into the structure of the vessel, requiring consideration for safe operation of the unique equipment.
Anyone who is in a position to use any type of tender-launching system, should consider creating their own written procedure, and include the review and understanding of the procedure as a requirement for anyone who will use the equipment.
Needless to say, procedures for launching from the third deck of a yacht will have different considerations from the procedures written to launch from a tender garage. A properly crafted procedure for tender-launching should be broken down into three segments or phases of a launching sequence: Pre-Launch Check, Launching, and Post-Launch Security.
The captain or owner and crew should all agree that the tender is to be launched, and to anticipate that this will happen at a given time. The current environmental conditions should be considered, ensuring the sea conditions are conducive to a safe launch and operation of the tender. The weather forecast is also important; the operators of the shore boat will need to know if they should anticipate inclement weather later in the day.
The crew tasked with launching the tender should then inspect the tender-handling equipment. The hoisting line and swaged terminal fitting must be inspected for corrosion, and replaced annually. The condition of the crane reviewed, inspected for any signs of obvious stress or damage. Leaking hydraulic fluid may be a sign of a lose fitting, bad o-ring or a hose about to burst.
The decision to launch the tender should be always based upon the determination that the equipment is in good safe operating condition. The crew should review the launching procedure together, determine if the environmental conditions require any change to the established procedure, and as a group agree to launch the tender. The tie-downs may then be removed from the tender, the lifting sling carefully inspected, then attached to the boat.
The crew understands who is responsible for operating the crane, who is responsible for controlling the tender during the launch, and who is responsible for operating the tender once placed safely in the water. During the launching sequence, each crewmember is responsible for the safe execution of their procedure, with the crane operator generally in charge of the overall procedure.
Vessels with cranes and tenders certified and class-approved for man-loading, such as Rescue Boat Launching, MOB (Man Over Board) rated equipment can provide for crew to ride the tender to the water. All other types of davits and tender-handling equipment are generally not rated for man-loading, and crew should abstain from riding in the tender.
Crew should never ride a personal watercraft to the water, regardless of the crane's certification; it simply is never safe to do so. One-to-two crew should be responsible for the control of the tender from once it has been hoisted free of the deck cradles all the way to the water and tied up alongside the yacht. Generally two long lines (painters) are attached to the tender, one to a bow-eye and the other to a stern-eye. A third line should be attached to the hoisting cable, near the headache ball/cable-weight, and managed by one of the deck crew assisting with the launch.
The greatest hazard during the launch is to allow the tender to swing free and start to pendulate on the end of the hoisting cable, rotating freely against the yacht's structure. This is why two painters must be used to control the tender at all times, in some cases being handed down from crew on an upper deck to other crew on a lower deck during the launch.
Each launching procedure is written specific to the needs of the individual vessel. The tender is hoisted until the entire weight of the tender is taken up by the hoisting line. Hooks should be inspected and ensure that they are engaged with the lifting eyes properly. The crane operator should ideally be using a wireless joystick controller, which will allow he or she the ability to stand in a safe location to observe the launching operation, and operate the equipment with a level of precision and control over each function.
This is where the higher-quality equipment available to today's yacht tends to also be safer equipment to operate, especially when the sea conditions start to deteriorate. The crane operator will slew the crane and tender over the side of the yacht, anticipating that this action may also cause the vessel to list to that side. Smaller davit systems may not include a powered slewing system, and may rotate quickly outboard once the yacht begins to list; the davit operator and crew must anticipate this and plan for the outboard rotation of the davit.
Once out over the water, the crane operator must confirm that there is no other tender, or swimmers in the water directly below or in the near vicinity of the tender launching area. Once the tender is in the water, the hoisting cable should continue to be paid out allowing line and the lifting sling to go slack inside the tender. This will prevent the dangerous and potentially damaging 'snatching' action of the lifting rig as the tender rides on the undulating seas alongside the yacht.
At this point in time the tender crew may climb down into the boat, release the lifting harness and prepare to move the tender away from the yacht. This is also the very moment when more crew is injured than at any other time in the sequence of launching the shore boat.
Once the lifting harness is released from the hoisting line, a crewmember should pull the headache ball taught and away from the tender with the control-line. This is why the third line is attached near the weight during launch preparation; the weight used to tension the hoisting line is heavy by nature, and once allowed to start to swing, can cause devastating damage to both crew and vessel that happens to be in the way of its described arc as it swings free. There is a reason it is called the "headache-ball"!
The hoisting line should be retrieved, and the launching equipment properly stowed once the tender has been launched. The controller is turned off and stowed to prevent unwanted operation of the crane. The hydraulic system should also be shut down at this point in time.
The tender crew should understand the yacht's schedule, the day's weather forecast and plan for mooring the tender while in the water and not being used. Something as simple as a set of mooring whips, or as utilitarian as a telescoping boat-boom, becomes very handy, especially when having to secure the tender in an active anchorage. These are nice upgrades to any yacht that frequently uses their tenders and toys.
Additional post-launch security includes a policy for wearing PFD's while on board the tender or personal watercraft, and who of the crew has permission to helm any of the yacht's tenders. A retrieval procedure should also be included in the ISM protocol, and is essentially a reverse of the launching procedure, with care given to the "landing" of the tender into the deck cradles, and the proper securing of the tender to the deck, using proper cable-downs.
The yachting lifestyle should be a wonderful experience for owners, guests and crew alike; it offers a special opportunity to see unique places in the world. This experience is always enhanced by the ability to place tenders, water toys and even one-atmosphere submarines safely into and out of the water. In today's industry there is good selection of high quality, properly engineered equipment suited specifically for any of these applications. With the need for personal safety paramount, the selection and use of this specialized equipment ensures the yachting experience can be a dynamic and exciting one.
About Nautical Structures
Nautical Structures Industries is an industry leader in the design and manufacture of exceptional quality deck equipment. Specializing in boarding systems and tender-handling equipment for large power and sailing yachts. Nautical Structures has an extensive portfolio of fully developed equipment designs generated from over twenty five years in business, supplying shipyards worldwide. Nautical Structures provides in-house design and engineering services, manufacturing, testing and after-sales service world-wide. Nautical Structures’ passerelles, gangways, deck cranes, davits, transom lifts and tender garage launching systems are found on many of the finest yachts built today.
Rick Thomas is one of the original founders of the company, is directly involved with new and specialty projects, bringing Nautical Structures’ design and in-the-field experience to the client.Rick is an avid Technical Diver and has also written for Tech Diving Magazine. You can find his work at www.techdivingmag.com.