How safe are you working on a private yacht without effective leadership?

Superyacht crew unsafe

How safe are you working on a private yacht without effective leadership?

If you work on a very, very large yacht (well over 3000gt), or on one managed by one of a few good management companies and have good leadership aboard, you will probably shudder when looking at these pictures.

One crew member riding a tender while being recovered at sea without lifejacket or harness, and another that apparently feels little need for safety procedures, or worry for other crew that would have to rescue him should he slip.


Poor yacht crew behaviour

6 years ago a young man in his 20’s was not so fortunate as these crew. At the end of the last day of the 2010¬†Monaco boat show, Will Black’s family received a call saying there had been a boat crash the previous evening and their son, William Black, who was Bosun on a SY, was missing, presumed dead.

Many in the yachting community worked hard to try to find William, but searches reported nothing.

How William was lost is still somewhat of a mystery, and I know of no formal investigation done we can learn from, or share and use it to raise safety onboard all yachts.

Imagine what it feels like when you get a call (or have to make a call) about a young crew that has been involved in an accident and is dead, severely injured, missing and presumed dead!

Not something anyone would wish for or want to have to do. But it happens and I for one feel many of these terrible events could be avoided with just a little more understanding of safety culture and with better training in leadership.

This yacht has left the dock, has engines running and all other deck crew have gone forward. Why this person is where he is, and why he does not have a life jacket on is bewildering.

The cost of equipment and better training in safety culture and better leadership is surely far less than the cost of an accident or fatality!

It is our own mental models of what is safe and our ideas and approach to risk that is partly to blame. This with of course the level of leadership available.

Daily around the world yacht crew are paid (so I think we can call them professionals), and are working with little idea of the dangers they are putting themselves or the rest of the crew (and passengers) into. Where is the leadership here?

Unfortunately leadership is quite aware of what is going on aboard as they set the standards of safety. Watch a large yacht dock or leave the dock (as above over 50m), and count the number of crew standing about close to edges or in snap back zones, no life jackets and not much idea of the dangers associated with the task of docking.

It simply makes no logical sense for people doing a professional job to disregard safety. The picture below of the latest MY Dilbar shows what should happen and can happen with good leadership and good safety culture.

The question is why does this not happen on every other yacht?

This yacht is 15,917gt, is it really just because they have different regulations to stand by or is it more about leadership and the level of safety training and culture.

Just because you work on a yacht below or above a certain tonnage, why should safety culture change so much?

Where does size and tonnage come in if you fall over the side and get sucked under, or fall over when no one sees you, or fall from a height into the water and loose consciousness, and you do not have a life jacket on? The results are going to be in the most part the same.

I simply do not see this logic.

Should we liken the superyacht industry to Formula One (F1) in the 1990s when Complacency proved costly!

Are we as an industry going to wait until more crew loose life or get seriously injured before we stand up and self regulate better safety measures, better leadership across the board.

Will more captains and officers stand up and take action when crew do not keep to their standing orders or SOP’s. Whether it’s not wearing a kill cord or life jacket, or standing in snap back zones etc… surely these are violations that need to be dealt with in one way or another. Or will we wait for more disasters and fatalities.

By crew continuing to work with poor safety culture and saying little about not being issued a life jacket when one should be issued and worn, it may as well say you are OK with this practice by your silence.

I know some crew that have left a yacht that has unsafe practices which is great, but what about the captain, crew, owner and guests that are left. And what about the people that may have to rescue them when they do get into an accident.

We need to offer crew a way to step up and speak up about safety, and they need to be able to do this without jeopardizing their jobs or career.

If you are interior crew and the deck crew are not wearing lifejackets on the swim platform when docking, or jump into the water without a care for safety to try to un snag a yacht’s anchor you are being put at risk. How so? You may now be called on to do a job you are not that well equipped for with less direction, or you may be called on in a rescue.

If you are taken ashore in a tender where the crew (driver) is not wearing a lifejacket or kill cord, your life is at risk as well as the driver and all aboard SEE MILLY REPORT.

The people driving this tender (above) are all wearing lifejackets. If you guessed they were not professional superyacht crew, you guessed right! They are doing an RYA PBL2 course that I have heard some captains make fun of.


What baffles me is when crew having passed this exam get to drive (as a paid member of crew) a tender such as this, it is rare to see any wearing a Kill cord let alone a life jacket! This is akin to taking a driving test then not bothering with a seat belt once you have passed. But then that’s now against the law in most countries. So is this a leadership issue, an industry issue or both?

I know when I was crew and captain I was lucky. And while it is no excuse, the safety equipment was not as good in 80’s as it is today, life jackets were bulky, and harnesses, well they were barely available or of much use, and I do not remember having a kill cord to use. Thinking back there were times I wished for all, but the mental models of that era were far from good safety culture as it was still cool to be macho.

Today I think we have the right models and gear available. The volo 60’s and 70’s use it going round the world, the RNLI and Coast Guard use it every day (even in calm waters), and the America’s cup professionals are now even wearing helmets! I see no reason why professional superyacht crew should be any different and not set an example of what a professional crew do as the crew on the new Dilbar are doing below.

If one crew can do it why not all professional crew. I commend the captain, officers and crew here, and let us hope this spreads throughout the industry.

Leadership is about setting an example, all crew do that and this is why it is so important that it is the right example. Most importantly I feel is the need for good leadership in setting the culture and vision of what good safety is, and what it looks like.

Lets make it cool to be professionals and professional to be cool.

Your comments are most welcome.

Simon Harvey

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