The MCA’s Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen and the Large Yacht Code 3 are two publications outlining that crew should be wearing harnesses, among other precautions, when working aloft or over- side. But how can crew fulfil these safe working practices when some yachts do not have the equipment needed to meet the requirements?
“Issues can arise when a yacht is built as private but later becomes commercially operated, or when a vessel is built to Code but can’t find the certification years later,” explains Angus Lamming, senior surveyor at the Isle of Man Ship Registry. “Many yachts are fitted with trackways that were never designed for man-riding, or with systems that have never been tested or approved.”
According to classification society Lloyd’s Register, there can be big variations in standards. “Harness trackways and associated fittings are within the scope of the applicable statutory requirements, as opposed to class rules,” says Julian Smith, lead specialist in fire and safety. “Consequently, it is the Flag Administration that specifies and implements the technical and certification requirements that relate to the adequacy of these systems.”
In light of this, Smith explains that there are no regulatory requirements to say such items must be provided, but when these items are used for working aloft or over the side, compliance with the applicable standards is mandatory. “It is important to understand that some trackways found on yachts may be certified for use in sail handling but not for the suspension of persons, which is significantly different in terms of testing and certification,” he adds.
The issue has been fully identified by the MCA, which has published a Marine Guidance Note, MGN 422, in response. “The use of single-point safety ‘rail-and-trolley’ systems is becoming more prevalent on vessels, especially megayachts,” the notice explains. “Most consist of two travellers linked in tandem that can be separated if necessary into independent units. These are fitted to a metal track rail [that] allows the travellers to glide along it [and to which support harnesses are attached]. There is the option of having more than one traveller on the rail.”
However, the notice agrees that many of these systems have been designed and installed for the sole purpose of sail handling, and not for supporting crewmembers working over the side or aloft. “Equipment which is used for lifting persons must be designed for the purpose and it is not acceptable to use a work station harness or a bosun’s chair attached to a rail-and-trolley system designed for sail handling to enable window cleaning or other overside maintenance to be undertaken,” the MCA concludes.
So whose responsibility is it to ensure that adequate equipment is available? For Lloyd’s, trackways are a technical item that the owner’s rep needs to highlight early on in the design cycle, perhaps even at pre-contract stage.
“Trackways affect the aesthetics of the yacht, but the owner’s rep needs to advise the owner that it is a requirement for the day-to-day cleaning and maintenance operations, and to protect crew from a safety point of view,” says Smith. “If the designer is briefed on the requirement early on, then they have every opportunity to ensure that such arrangements can be hidden from view and are aesthetically pleasing when not in use.”
As Smith points out, the main challenge with retrofitting such systems to existing yachts is that the supporting structure that such fittings are attached to is just as important as the equipment itself. All load-bearing equipment, including its supporting structure, needs to be properly designed and constructed. Retrospectively, this could mean a lot of inconvenient and expensive work as it may involve stripping out the interior or other areas of the yacht to gain the necessary access required for its installation.
During the build, the shipyard should also bear responsibility. “Flag States and Classification Societies are only able to monitor compliance,” explains Marc Verburg, fleet operations manager at the Marshall Islands Ship Registry. “Ship builders should ensure that only certified equipment is installed. The Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) Yacht Code requires that all equipment installed for working aloft and over the side complies with certain standards, is maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and has been tested and approved by class.”
In general, the yacht designs that Lloyd’s sees do incorporate these systems to one degree or another. “It is, however, important to note that we also expect the supporting calculations to be provided as part of the plan-submission schedule to ensure that the supporting structure is sufficient for the intended use,” Verburg adds. “The Classification Society then reviews these calculations and examines the structure during on-site surveys to verify that it has been constructed in accordance with the approved plans.”
Compliance with the remaining requirements of the applicable regulations can then be met through the provision of suitably certificated products and components, load-testing of the completed assemblies and training of the crew in the proper use of such systems.
For those crew working with non-compliant and pre-existing systems, other solutions are advised. “We always try to be pragmatic and look at the alternatives, but if a trackway system is not demonstrably safe, then the only option for the crew is to wash the windows from the quayside,” says Lamming.
“Most builders and designers should, and I believe are, aware of the importance of following the relevant regulations,” concludes Verburg. “The regulations do not require that the systems are installed, but do require safe working practice if the job is to be carried out. If the owner does not want a certain system installed, they take the responsibility for ensuring that no crewmembers perform potentially dangerous work. It then depends on the senior management of the yacht to monitor that the equipment is used for the intended purpose and in accordance with the guidelines.”
Smith agrees that the decision to install these systems ultimately falls on the owner, but it is not one that should be taken lightly. “For owners building a yacht solely for private use, they need to be mindful that while the vessel may not be being used in a commercial capacity, they are still employing professional seafarers and consequently owe the same duty of care to them to provide a safe working environment,” he explains. “In the event of an accident, the owner could still be exposed to the same levels of liability as an owner of a commercial yacht.”
Superyacht operations are becoming more and more professional and, with high-profile accidents occurring when working aloft and overside, safety concerns surrounding the proper use of harnesses and trackways are gaining momentum. The fact that superyachts are not just aesthetically pleasing, comfortable designs, but also professional working vessels is too often overlooked in the industry. It is time that safe and practical operations are given their rightful place in the design process.
Image courtesy of TLC Refit and Repair
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