Lessons learned: Operating in swell in a small craft requires full attention

The incident

With the wind light but some swell present, the opportunity came for a support vessel to carry out some crew training with its daughter craft.

The training went well and the time came for the coxswain to approach the falls so the boat could be lifted back on to the support vessel.

As the bowman went forward he shouted for more slack in the painter line as he believed the line was too short. However, as he grabbed the painter line the support vessel and the daughter craft rolled away from each other as the daughter craft fell into a wave through.

At that point the bowman, still holding the painter line, was lifted from the bow, and on landing back onto the deck he lost his balance and fell over the port side.

The bowman was wearing a safety tether, which prevented him from being separated from the daughter craft. The coxswain could see what had happened and immediately manoeuvred the daughter craft away from the support vessel to eliminate the risk of crushing the bowman.

The third crew member, who had been in the wheelhouse, went on deck and recovered the bowman shortly afterwards, and the daughter craft was then successfully recovered on the falls and secured.

The bowman was immediately assessed by the onboard firstaider. He had sufered only minor injuries as a result of the incident.

Lessons learned

  1. Although the bowman kept hold of the painter line as the vessels moved apart, he was wearing the correct PPE for the operation and the potential for more serious consequences was minimised. The insulated boat suit he was wearing contained an auto-infation lifejacket, but as he was held sufficiently clear of the water by his safety tether it did not activate.
  2. Good management of the incident stemmed from a thorough risk assessment, with mitigating measures in place that
    were understood by the crew. As a result, what could have been a serious accident resulted in only minor injuries.
  3. The coxswain of the daughter craft maintained appropriate oversight of the operation, which allowed him the presence of mind to move away from the support vessel in good time, protecting the overboard crew member. Operating in swell in a small craft can be unpredictable, and requires caution and full attention from everyone.

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