Accessing a ship’s deck in heavy weather is always a risk. In its latest Mars Report, The Nautical Institute describes how a bosun was washed overboard by a large wave and subsequently never found. A preventable accident, according to the Mars editor, if the right safeguards had been implemented.

The Nautical Institute gathers reports of maritime accidents and near-misses. It then publishes these so-called Mars Reports (anonymously) to prevent other accidents from happening. A summary of this incident:

A loaded bulk carrier was under way at sea. A leak had been discovered in the main fire line on the main deck near hold five, and the bosun and an officer were tasked to fix it. The fire pump was stopped and the two men started working on replacing the flange gasket in the line. About an hour later, the officer of the watch (OOW) observed the wind speed and the height of waves increasing. The master was informed of the deteriorating weather conditions, and contacted the chief officer and asked him to stop work on deck and secure the loose equipment.

By the time the chief officer told the men to stop work on the fire line, the job was already completed. It only remained to collect the tools, which they proceeded to do after a rest break for coffee. As the men collected the tools, a heavy wave swept the deck from the starboard side. Both men were caught by the wave; the OOW held on to the railing, but the bosun was swept overboard by the force of the water. The alarm was raised and the crew began search sweeps of the area. Several hours later, with weather deteriorating further and darkness, the search was called off. The bosun was never found.

Lessons learned

  • Accessing the deck during heavy weather, even on a large vessel, can be very dangerous. Heavy winds and waves can result in a catastrophic outcome.
  • No personnel should be allowed to access the deck in heavy weather unless it is necessary for the safety of the crew or ship. If the crew is required to go on deck during deteriorating weather conditions:
    i) A thorough risk assessment should be performed and appropriate safeguards implemented to mitigate the risk of heavy weather and waves breaking on to the deck, such as taking the weather on the stern.
    ii) Proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as a harness, safety line and a flotation device should be worn.

Also read: Man overboard while rigging the pilot ladder

Mars editor’s note: ‘Unfortunately, there are many reports of persons overboard in the Mars archive. Reports 202139, 202069, 202039, 201970, 201933 to cite a few, in just the last two years. It is this editor’s opinion that on safe ships run by quality companies, accidents involving persons washed overboard should be zero.’

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202156, that are part of Report Number 350. A selection of this Report will also be published in SWZ|Maritime’s January 2022 issue. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published on SWZ|Maritime’s website.

More reports are needed to keep the scheme interesting and informative. All reports are read only by the Mars coordinator and are treated in the strictest confidence. To submit a report, please use the Mars report form.

Also read: Know what to do when someone falls overboard

Photo: NASA/SABOR/Chris Armanetti, University of Rhode Island/Flickr.