The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) examines and investigates all types of marine accidents to or on board UK vessels worldwide, and other vessels in UK territorial waters.
Their distribution of MAIB Safety Digest 1/2019 provides a collection of lessons learned from marine accidents, drawing the attention of the marine community to some of the lessons arising from investigations into recent accidents and incidents.
The Safety Digest is a 70 page document of countless mistakes, and while most do not pertain directly to yacht racing, we found Case 24 to describe an incident during the Clipper 2017-18 Round the World Yacht Race.
The third leg of the race began on October 31 and was to unleash the 12 teams into the harsh conditions of the Southern Ocean course from Cape Town, South Africa to Fremantle, Australia.
1. Every vessel, whatever its size or purpose, needs a passage plan that has identified all potential hazards for the voyage ahead. In this case, the skipper had intended to head away from land after the race start so was not planning to sail close to the shore. This meant that there was little expectation of having to manage coastal navigation. Nevertheless, the requirement to pass the headland meant that the passage plan should have assessed the risks of operating in shallow water.
2. When things start to go wrong on a yacht when inshore, safe navigation must remain a high priority. The skipper was the only person closely monitoring the navigation. Unfortunately, when the situation started to deteriorate, the skipper was required to be on deck to supervise the crew handling and turning the yacht. This meant that no-one was monitoring the plotter at the navigation station down below, and there was no plotter on deck. As a result, no-one understood the immediate risk of grounding. It was also unhelpful that it was dark and hazy with an unlit foreshore, which meant that there were few visual clues to the close proximity to land.
3. When properly set up, alarms can provide vital warning of danger. There were no navigational alarms set on the yacht; the electronic navigation system did not have safety depths set and, although the echo sounder was running, the audible shallow water alarm was turned off. The yacht was well-equipped with a suite of capable modern electronic safety equipment that could have helped to warn the crew of danger ahead.
4. Any vessel in a distress situation should call for assistance as soon as possible. In this accident, the crew did not make an immediate “Mayday” or “Pan Pan” emergency call on VHF radio. Had this been done, it is highly likely that the local coastguard would have heard the call immediately and the crew could have been rescued earlier.