Risky Business...

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Risky Business...

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Ever-tightening Health and Safety requirements, as well as fears of litigation, are squeezing the fun and enjoyment out of an industry that requires both in full measure, says Phil Draper.

JUNE 2008

Visiting a recently launched superyacht the other day, I didn’t get further than three strides from the head of the gangway before appreciating how seriously her master viewed his responsibility to ‘all souls’.
“Hi,” said the captain. “Welcome aboard.” After shaking hands and exchanging names, it was immediately down to business. Well almost. “Sorry,” he said. “Before we do anything I need to sign you in.” What followed was the sort of procedure followed in offices the world over – squiggles on a sheet with boxes tagged ‘time in/on’, ‘name’, ‘visiting’ and ‘time out/off’ – only it was not being done by a receptionist or security guard at a front desk, but by a yacht captain out in the fresh air and on an aft-deck dining table. “Oh and I’ll need some ID,” he said, slightly apologetically.
It was about this time that I couldn’t help but mention it was the first time in 20 years that I’d been asked to sign in aboard a professionally crewed yacht. But having listened to the reply that included some sighing and the words ‘health and safety’, I could only sympathise. Up to this boat I’d obviously been lucky, either not to have been asked or to have got off the hundreds of boats I’ve visited without either my health or safety being compromised. Things have tightened up a lot over the past couple of years.

“And don’t think you’re going to get peanuts at any onboard drinks parties either, unless of course the yacht’s using some unscrupulous outside caterers!” 

Indeed my companion from the yard that built the boat, which incidentally was destined for a charter role, said that signing in aboard the way we’d done so was nothing. The same procedure will apparently go on all day and night and will include the guests; supposedly they’ll even have to sign ‘off’ and ‘on’ every time they go for a swim!
But, of course, this is all simply a sign of the times. This is how it has to be. Should there be a fire, or a yacht starts sinking, it is vital to know precisely who is aboard and who is not. There’s simply no argument about such things. Modern-day professionalism and the lawyers of the globe demand nothing less.
Alas those same liabilities are increasingly reducing functionality.
For instance, the same captain told me that now he obviously won’t allow anyone to land a helicopter on his sundeck, despite the fact that the designer and builder did what was deemed necessary during the build programme, and the certification body ticked it all off. “No one’s touching and going here,” he said. “I’m the one that has to take ultimate responsibility… Far too risky.”
And he had a few other similarly understandable responses to potential dangers aboard.
“Yes we’ve got plenty of diving gear aboard and a great compressor, but of course we can’t use any of it… Far too risky… We try to put guests off thinking about diving… But if really pushed, we would find a diving company ashore that can come aboard with their own gear; that way the liability would be theirs not ours.”
We started talking about other potential guest risks and the continuing risk-management issue was obviously painful; and none more so than at the mention of personal watercraft. “Obviously,” he said, “we wouldn’t have them onboard if it were up to me… They’re far too dangerous… The only trouble is, if we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t charter… I just keep my fingers crossed the whole time they’re in the water.”
Clearly things are getting out of hand.
It won’t be long before everyone aboard a superyacht has to start wearing life-jackets while on deck. And what about crash helmets for when underway? Oh and forget crisp, starched uniforms for crew members; think steel toecaps and ‘hi-vi’ vests.
And don’t think you’re going to get peanuts at any onboard drinks parties either, unless of course the yacht’s using some unscrupulous outside caterers!
At some point surely society in general must cater to the management of risks rather than their elimination. For that to happen, however, courts of law will need to accept ‘stuff happens’ and that when it does someone’s career doesn’t necessarily need to be sacrificed and compensation paid.
But until there’s a sea change, I would suggest toy inventories aboard the world's superyachts are only going to get shorter and shorter and the list of ‘don’ts’ will get longer and longer.
Shame.

© Phil Draper