Oliver Mills-Nanyn: Safety Precautions for Superyacht Crew

Oliver Mills-Nanyn is an experienced seafarer who has travelled the world, spending a great deal of time between Northern Italy, Corsica, Sardinia and the south of France. The article will explore the importance of both crew and yacht owners cultivating a culture of behaviour-based safety.

Crew safety guidelines and regulations are not enough in isolation. Rather, it is the way that these operating systems and codes are implemented that makes the difference in terms of crew safety. From the captain down, crew need to regard safety as a team effort, with crew members pulling together and actively encouraged to report aspects that are not up to standard, rather than facing the threat of being reprimanded.

While some regard the International Safety Management (ISM) Code as a benchmark in terms of safety standards, in reality, it is actually a minimum standard. In addition to the ISM Code, many other organisations have produced comprehensive safety guidelines, including the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW); Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS); and Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Large Yacht Code. Rather than being punished when standards are not adhered to, crews should be encouraged to see safety as a continuous team effort, with all crew mates continually striving for improvement.

Prior to becoming a broker for Camper & Nicholsons, Jeff Partin worked on yachts full time for more than 12 years, logging more than 100,000 miles as crew and captain on both power and sailboats. He points out that, in his experience, accidents were typically caused by inexperience, e.g. not paying attention or acting in haste.

Every yacht owner is essentially an employer who has a duty to provide all of their employees with a safe environment in which to work. Working at sea always incurs risks, but to a large extent these can be mitigated by measures taken by the yacht owner, who is ultimately liable for both guest and crew safety.

Both increased regulation and technological advancements undeniably have a role to play in improving maritime safety, with the design of technology and systems for human operators still found to be the root cause of many accidents at sea. Nevertheless, behaviour-based safety is a critical factor in improving a vessel’s safety performance.

Cultivating a culture of behaviour-based safety starts from the top, at captain and manager level, filtering all the way down through the crew to the guests. Although safety can mean different things to different people, creating a culture of behaviour-based safety starts with setting an example and providing quality service without being afraid to tell guests if they are doing something that is unsafe or not in their best interests.

On superyachts safety can be taken for granted. However, instilling a culture of behaviour-based safety is all-important. With crew typically focussed on keeping guests entertained, it is important not to overlook safety. As soon as any guest arrives on board, they must be familiarised with safety guidelines and procedures and made aware that the superyacht can potentially be a dangerous environment. If crew mates demonstrate a safety-first approach, this is likely to influence the behaviour of everyone on board.

It can be challenging to strike the right balance between best practices and crew responsibility. If a yacht needs to have stringent procedures and checklists in place to achieve something, this could indicate that there is something lacking in the interface between human crew members and onboard technology. It is crucial for design to be human-centred, ensuring that the operation of equipment is easy and intuitive, starting with its design.

Where an accident occurs, post-accident analysis can be a very valuable learning opportunity, helping crews to assess what went wrong and prevent it happening again. By learning from incidents, crew members are better positioned to design intuitive systems that fit the process and do the best thing should a similar situation arise in the future.

Superyachts are incredibly sophisticated and powerful vessels. Nevertheless, they still present an environment where simple mistakes such as tripping over a rope can come at a huge cost. Yacht owners who fail to adequately uphold crew safety leave themselves vulnerable to a lawsuit in the event that something goes wrong.

Just as crew members must adopt a safety-first approach, taking all steps necessary to mitigate risk, yacht owners must also take responsibility, following safety regulations, putting in place full or mini-ISM Codes and ensuring that the captain maintains a clean, tidy ship with regular, documented safety drills. This does not necessarily entail more regulation and oversight. Rather, individual responsibility goes a long way.

Crew members should look out for each other, ensuring that all crewmates get home safely. In terms of achieving this, both crew and yacht owners need to be aware of potential hazards, both on board and ashore, while following protocols and using common sense. By being aware, working as a team and promoting a culture of safety and common sense, accidents on board can be prevented.


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