Entering enclosed spaces on board yachts is a hazardous task.
Entering enclosed spaces aboard yachts during a shipyard refit can be a hazardous task that requires proper training, planning, and safety precautions. These spaces, such as tanks, lockers, and bilges, can pose serious hazards to those who enter them. Despite their small size, these locations can contain dangerous levels of toxic gases — such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrogen sulfide — that can result in asphyxiation and death. It is important to follow established procedures, including the use of proper equipment and ventilation systems, to ensure a safe and successful entry.
Before entering an enclosed space, it is essential to assess the potential risks and to take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of those entering the space. This includes conducting a thorough risk assessment and testing the atmosphere inside the space to ensure it is safe to breathe.
When conducting a risk assessment, it is important to consider the potential sources of hazardous gases and the likelihood of their presence. This may include fuel and oil leaks, rotting organic matter, and any other sources of combustion or chemical reactions that may result in the production of toxic gases.
It is also important to consider the ventilation of the space, as the lack of fresh air can lead to the buildup of dangerous gases. Especially in a shipyard setting, it is best to utilize the services of a marine chemist. These specialized experts are trained to determine whether vessel construction, alteration, repair, or lay-up of vessels can be undertaken safely.
Once the risk assessment has been conducted, it is time to test the atmosphere inside the enclosed space. This can be done using a portable gas detector that can measure the levels of toxic gases present. The readings from the gas detector should be used to determine whether it is safe to enter the space or not.
If the atmosphere inside the enclosed space is found to be hazardous, it is important to take the necessary steps to make it safe before entering. This may involve ventilating the space, removing the source of the hazardous gas, or using respiratory protection equipment. The old, misinformed action of simply opening or ventilating the space “for 24 hours” is not the solution!
When entering an enclosed space, it is also important to take precautions to ensure the safety of those inside. This may include wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as a gas mask or a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), to ensure that the atmosphere inside the space is safe to breathe. The equipment must be checked before use to ensure that it is functioning correctly, and that the wearer is trained in its use.
Before entering the enclosed space, a team leader should be appointed and all personnel entering the space should be briefed on the procedures and risks associated with entry. This should include a clear understanding of the duties of each team member and the steps to be taken in the event of an emergency. The team leader should also ensure that communication systems are in place and that all personnel have a means of calling for assistance if needed.
It is also advisable to have a person stationed outside the enclosed space who can monitor the atmosphere and help if necessary. This person should be equipped with communication equipment and should be trained in first aid and rescue procedures.
It is important for yacht owners and crew members to understand the dangers associated with enclosed space entry and to take the necessary steps to prevent accidents. By following best practices and adhering to industry guidelines, it is possible to ensure the safety of those on board and to prevent harm to people and property.
Enclosed space entry onboard yachts should be avoided whenever possible. Most crew are not properly trained to engage in such an activity. However, when the situation arises, crew can create a safer environment by conducting a thorough risk assessment, testing the atmosphere inside the space, and taking the necessary precautions. If properly done, these actions help ensure the safety of those entering the space and to prevent accidents.
Capt. Jake DesVergers is Chief Surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB), which provides flag state inspection services to private and commercial yachts on behalf of several flag state administrations.