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offshore safety - page 10

4.10 What to do in an emergency


Putting out fires quickly is essential. The sooner you find the source the quicker the fire can be extinguished. Crew knowledge of the location of fire extinguishers and fire blankets is paramount. Placement of these items with large clear signs should be carefully designed for ease and speed of access. Immediately alert the entire crew. This is called sounding the alarm.

The marine insurance statistics below demonstrate that electrical wiring and appliances are by far the leading cause of boat fires.  It's important to understand that the flammable nature of most boat components renders them particularly vulnerable to flames no matter the source of ignition.

  1. AC and DC wiring/appliance 55%

  2. Engine/Transmission Overheating 24%

  3. Fuel Leaks 8%

  4. Miscellaneous 7%

  5. Unknown 5%

  6. Stove 1%

Fire need three elements-air, fuel and heat to sustain itslef. Remove one and the fire will go out. 

A - Remove the air-by smothering the fire, shutting air intakes or shutting the door.

B - Remove the fuel by shutting off the source - gas, diesel, petrol or other inflammables - that might be alight.

C - Remove the hat - by cooling the area down. 

A basic understanding of this 'fire triangle' explains how fire extinguishers work. Fire is classified into

types so that suitable extinguishers are used for particular types of fire. 

Class A: SOLIDS such as paper, wood, plastic etc.

Class B: FLAMMABLE LIQUIDS such as paraffin, petrol, oil etc.

Class C: FLAMMABLE GASES such as propane, butane, methane etc.

Electrical: These are invariably Class A or B. 

Extinguishers onboard a yacht should be effective for ALL Classes and at least 2pcs (3 and 6 kilos) 

Dry powder (ABC) 


Smothers and creates a chemical reaction with the fire. Effective on small fires but messy. The powder is a combination of chemicals which can be corrosive and difficult to clean up. 

Extinguisher positioning 

The extinguishers are mainly close to cabins and exits in order to enable an escape route from a fire. A large extinguisher is fitted in a deck locker. 

Engine fires

Do not open the engine compartment since this will feed it with more air. Isolate possible causes such as diesel and batteries, and if possible, close the engine seacock to prevent the inlet pipe burning through and sinking the boat. Extinguishers are either fitted inside the compartment to operate automatically at a certain temperature, sound an alarm so that a manual trigger can be operated on deck or an extinguisher fired through a peep-hole in the engine compartment fascia. 










During the safety brief, show the use of fire extinguishers. Take them from their mounting and read the operating instructions. Acrid smoke will make it hard to breathe and see, so crew should make themselves familiar with the extinguisher instructions.

  • Alert everyone onboard.

  • Smoke and heat are the immediate problems, so act fast and investigate early.

  • Switch off the source of fuel, electricity and gas.

  • Fight the fire with a clear route of escape.

  • Crouch down low to escape heat and smoke.

  • Ensure your actions do not spread the fire.

  • Ensure the fire is completely extinguished, since embers can remain hot for long periods. 








Fire blanket

Thck glassfibre mat that is draped over a fire to remove air. Effective on fat fires in the galley, where a normal extinguisher would simply 'splash' the flaming oil around. Mount fire blankets close to a stove, but not so close that a pan fire would stop it from being accessible.




On passage, pump the bildge regularly and record the pump strokes in the log to monitor a dry or wet bilge. A hole not found and dealt with swiftly, will be hard to find when water levels rise. Know the location of all skin fittings since these may fail. Tape softwood plugs to the fittings. An axe or hammer helps gain access to hidden areas. 

Once a hole is found, slow the ingress of water to a level that you can cope with and start pumping. Try to affect a repair. If the hole is on the waterline, try tacking to heel the boat and lift the hole clear of the water. Even an ill-fitting plug such as a fender or drinks bottle, will reduce the overall amount of water. A sail strapped and winched tight over a hole, plugged with a sail bag, can also be effective. 

One way to bail out the boat is to detach the engine or generator seawater inlet from the seacock and use the engine to pump out the boat through the exhaust. You will need to think about fitting an improvised strainer on the end of the inlet pipe to stop impellor damage. 

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Fire onboard



Steering failure is a result of problems either with the rudder or the steering system. The steering mechanism is often the problem, but check for water ingress in case the rudder tube is leaking. Get control of the boat so the problem can be investigated. Try:

  • Take down all sail, headsail first. The yacht will lay beam or quarter to wind; beware of breaking waves.

  • Balance the sails to sail a rough upwind course.

  • Drop the headsail and sheet in the mainsail to pivot the bow towards the sea. 

  • Deploy a sea anchor or drogue to hold the yacht into the sea by the stern or bow. 

Wheel steering system use chain, wire, rod, Spectra, or hydraulics to operate a quadrant or lever arm to move the rudder. Many autopilots connect directly to the quadrant or lever arm and might steer the boat effectively. 


Check for injuries and don lifejackets since the boat's motion changes dramatically once the mast has follen down, and guardrails are often damaged. Spar failure needs dealing with quickly since parts that have fallen down, may punch a hole in the boat. The whole rig is often too heavy to get back onboard, and some parts may need to be cut away in order to make salvaging at least some of the parts manageable. 

Standing and running rigging may be under pressure. Cutting a shroud may transfer load onto a loose halyard, injuring someone or damaging something. Release the running rigging and use it to take the weight of the mast when the standing rigging is being cut. Shut off the ship's electrics, or isolate the mast-light, instruments and radar. 

Sailboat dismasting


Wire cutter



The liferaft is a small emergency inflatable device or boat, equipped onboard ship to help in the evacuation of individuals during emergency events like abandon ship. Things normally trigger abandon ship could be; fire out of control, ship grounded, flooding caused by vessel body accident, ship list to uncontrollable return. Having known that, before or while boarding a ship, it’s very important that you check to know the location, type and how to use safety devices provided. It’s well understood that no one prays for such incidents listed above, but the truth is that, it does happen.

  • Location: once get onboard, one of your safety orientation is to know the area was life raft is located, how many are they and the nearest or which of you are grouped to be during an emergency.

  • Capacity and food: All life raft are equipped with water, rational food, medicine, and signal devices. Also, they are built to carry a certain amount of people. The above depends on the type/grade ie. “A or B”. The grade which is also written on the liferaft body can be “A” meaning it contains more foods, which can last for a longer time ( if used properly). The grade “A” also signifies that the ship is an ocean-going vessel, not coastal. While in that of grade “B” it contains less food which can last up to 48 hours or more ( if used properly).

  • Launching: As a crew onboard, it’s important to learn more about the method of launching the liferaft which is done when the ship still maintain hight ; unlash secured ropes, then remove the raft container from Hydrostatic Release Unit (HRU) by opening the manual slip hook, pull out the cylinder rope ( length for the hight), secure painter end to a strong place at ship deck and let got go the raft into the water. Once on the water, check the position and pull the cylinder rope till the cylinder active.

  • Boarding the raft: It’s recommended not to board the raft with any shape object ( it will damage the raft). It can be board by jumping into the water and swim towards the raft, jump directly to the raft ( if no one inside).

  • Food and water usage: while on the raft, it’s recommended to manage the water and food provided. As you might not know how long it will take to get rescued.

Packing your bag

Having checked what is already in your liferaft, you can make time spent in the raft more comfortable and increase your chances of survival with a well-packed grab bag. If there are things you need to add at the last minute, such as an EPRIB, these should be kept to a minimum. Ideally, you should have a VHF Radio, a handheld GPS and flares that are solely for the grab bag. Roughly, items in the grab bag should help you call for help and signal your location, provide warmth or protection, food and water, and medical supplies including seasickness tablets, as even the most hardened sailor is likely to succumb in a liferaft.


Liferaft inflation


"Don't abandon too early - Stay with the boat"

Put all your efforts into keeping the yacht afloat. A yacht, even a slowly sinking one, is easier to spot and has provisions and safety equipment that could aid your rescue. Many yachts have been abandoned and lives lost subsequently, only for the yacht to be found still floating days later.

Falling or jumping in the water, especially cold water, causes a dramatic increase in blood pressure, heart and breathing rates during the first few minutes. Swimming, waving or thrashing about increases the strain on the heart and make a heart attack or stroke more probable. Curl up in the water, bring knees to your chest and fold arms over your lifejackets to prevent heat loss.


Seasicknes can create a dehydration emergency. If you're a hardy old captain, don't look upon your sick crew as wusses. You're setting yourself up for a serious situation. A fun day out on the water just might turn into one of the worst days of your life. Sea sickness hits some people even on the calmest of days. If you or someone in your party is prone to car sickness in any way, they NEED to prepare. Sea sickness is 99 % preventable but not very curable. There are many remedies for sea sickness.

We also recommend that as soon as someone begins to feel queasy that they take the helm and steer the boat. This is almost a guaranteed and almost instant cure. It completely takes their mind off the sickness. Finally, try to stay above, warm and keep looking at the horizon. 

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