The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published report on the investigation of the death of recreational diver Lex Warner, after a fall on board MV Jean Elaine on 14, August 2012. In examining the details that led to his fall and eventual death, there are important synergies with the large yacht world that are worth captains and crew taking particular note.

The MAIB investigation reports that the incident occurred when an experienced recreational diver, Lex Warner, fell onto the deck of the dive work boat Jean Elaine. When he fell, Warner was fully dressed and prepared for diving to a depth of 95m; he was wearing heavy equipment on his back and had additional diving gear attached to his front and sides. Although it was not immediately apparent, the report notes, it was likely that the diving gear impacted Warner’s abdomen during the fall and caused significant internal injuries.

Image credit: Justin Ratcliffe

Warner continued with the give and at a depth of 88m, started an unplanned return to the surface. He lost control of his breathing and buoyancy shortly afterward and was not able to be revived. The investigation reveals that Warner's fall, and the cause of this, were likely to be significant factors in his death.
"There was a significant risk to divers of tripping and falling when attempting to walk on the deck of a work boat in open sea while fully dressed and equipped for deep technical diving," the investigation concludes. "The effects of wearing a large amount of heavy diving equipment can significantly exacerbate the results of what might otherwise be considered a relatively minor fall. While other incidents underwater have not been considered, it is plausible that Lex Warner started his unplanned ascent, which led to his death, because he felt unwell as a result of internal injuries suffered during a pre-dive fall."

Adrian McCourt, managing director of Watkins Superyachts believes that the incident could have been avoided if proper precautionary steps had been taken. "Although the captain was aware of the demands of his working environment,” McCourt observes, “There was no evidence of a formal assessment of the risks to a fully-dressed diver moving from his seated preparation area, to the point of entry into the water. The observation may seem, in the first instance, rather harsh on the captain who may be removed from the diving operation and delegate this to the dive master, but the report does make clear that the transition from passenger to diver occurs at the point of entry into the water.”

McCourt makes an interesting point that perhaps a sufficient risk assessment was not carried out. With superyachts not only increasing dive operations across the board, there is constant risk of guests and crew falling over on deck. This incident goes a long way in highlighting the importance of risk assessment on sea-going vessels.

The full investigation report can be read here.