Accidents happen! It’s a phrase commonly used worldwide. Whether by inexperience, carelessness or truly accidental conditions, the marine world is not excluded from its fair share of them.
Any business that works on the unpredictable waterways of the world is going to encounter accidents at some point. They may be small or big, but they will happen.
Most accidents are potentially preventable if all peoples involved follow basic safety guidelines. Since weather is the largest factor for any water going vehicle, all working harbours, inlets and ports set out some basic common sense rules.
Stay clear of all vessels around you. Be aware of what is on the waterway. Stay to the right of shipping lanes as large ships have the right of way and need to maintain certain speeds to manoeuvre. Be alert to the sounds in any harbour or inlet. Five short blasts of a vessels horns means there is danger and to stay clear. Be observant of what types of vessels are around you. A tugboat manoeuvring through a harbour may be towing that barge behind it with its tow cables underneath the water.
One thing that all ships on the waterways can do is make sure they are equipped with VHF radios to help monitor and communicate with the harbour.
Of course, even in the safest conditions with the most experienced of sailors, things go wrong. Mechanical problems, freak storms just to name a couple. Here in British Columbia waters, frequent fog is not uncommon. This of course can make visibility about as far as the tip of you nose. So navigational radar and radios become your eyes and ears on the water.
Depending on the size of the vessel being operated, there are specific equipment regulations required in Canada. Obviously the larger vessel the more safety equipment and lights needed to maintain safety on the waterways.
Here is an overview of some of the safety equipment, navigations and lights needed on the waterways of Canada.
Some basic safety equipment for smaller vessels include oars, pumps and bailers and for larger vessels an anchor and bilge pumps. Fire extinguishers, flares and first aid kits are also required safety measures.
Life jackets are a standard life saving equipment for any sized vessel. They are an essential piece of equipment for keeping a body afloat, in an upright breathing position in the water.
Life rafts and rescue platforms are the most commonly used piece of safety equipment and can be used in almost any weather condition and are highly recommended for cold-water rescue situations.
Essential equipment for all marine vehicles, regardless of its size is navigation lights. The actual requirements of the lights are determined by the size and power of the vessel. The largest of vessels need to exhibit one or two masthead lights, stern and sidelights. Smaller power driven vessels need to show sidelights and an all around light or a mast light. Anchored ships must
show a ball or all around light to indicate that it is indeed anchored. In conjunction with lights to be seen a vessel must also me heard so that other vessels will know your intentions. Sound devices from a simple hand held horn device for small vessels to a whistle and horn combination for vessels over 20m.
Vessels also need to have some sort of radar system on board. For smaller vessels this may just include a radar reflector so that larger radar equipped vessels may detect them.
The most important safety feature of all is the owners and operators of the boat. They are the ones who must keep the vessel in working condition. As well, any operator or owner of a vessel must ensure that all safety equipment is regularly tested to make sure they are up to industry standards.
One must note though that in Canadian waters, few accidents do truly happen, for which we can all be thankful. In 2002, there were 483 total marine accidents. A yearly average for the five years prior is 559 per year. By comparison standards – it is a fraction of the accidents as with motor vehicles. This statistic shows the experience, safety and training level as compared to the whole of people that drive on the roadways.
Tugboat accidents comprised a mere 4.9 of the total accidents in 2002. Where fishing vessels proved to be the most dangerous at 49 of the total accidents. Thought there was a jump in 2003 the trend stayed the same. Tugboats are at the bottom end of the scale in accidents.
Written by K.E. Heaton