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February 2020    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 35, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Template for Liveaboard Safety Precautions

From the Undersea Hunter fleet

from the February, 2020 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

I was shocked when, during a conversation I had at DEMA, a professional dive boat skipper attempted to defend the Conception disaster, saying that Truth Aquatics had a 30-year safety record. At Undercurrent, given the configuration of the boat, we had viewed this merely as a 30-year record of good luck. The fire has focused liveaboard dive boat operators' attention on safety precautions.

Cocos Island, routinely visited by the Undersea Hunter fleet, MV SeaHunter and MV Argo, is a day-and-a-half's sailing time from the Costa Rica mainland and not a place to countenance such a disaster.

Many modern equipped vessels rely on automatic alarm systems that sound in the wheelhouse or captain's cabin, but fleet owner Avi Klapfer's formula for a safe operation could be used as a template for other operators, whether their vessels are in such remote areas or just off the coast of mainland USA. Undercurrent asked Avi, always ahead of the game, what precautions his operation now takes in the light of such a disastrous fire. This is what he told us:

Emergency Escape

On the day passengers arrive at the vessel, they watch a safety and welcome onboard video, then they are shown the way to their allocated escape hatch. They visit the escape route and learn how to open and exit each hatch. No escape hatch is positioned over or under a passenger or crew bed area, and all escape routes lead to the main deck.

Passengers' Battery Charging

The vessel is comprehensively equipped with numerous electrical outlets, both inside and on deck (about 15 per passenger). Therefore, the need for additional passenger extension cords and charging hubs is eliminated. Each passenger is assigned four dedicated electrical outlets in separate bins on the main deck for camera battery charging.

No unattended plug-in instrument is permitted in the interior common areas during night hours. Night watch will unplug any device left so connected.

Night Watch

A night watch patrols on a pre-assigned route through the entire vessel every 20 minutes. The night watch is equipped with a special watchman light, a device set to record the time when the guard visits his assigned post. There is a set route through the vessel, and when the guard points his light at a special sticker, it records the time of his visit. This ensures the night watch passes through the vessel at the assigned intervals.

Smoking

Smoking is allowed only on the [top] sundeck, where there is a heavy and secure ashtray.

Alarms

There are individual smoke alarms throughout the vessels, with one or more per compartment. Each is checked to assure it is functioning correctly before each trip and checked once more during each trip. The alarms are interlinked so that when any alarm is activated, it will activate a central alarm in both the bridge and crew areas.

Fire-Fighting

There are more than 20 well-marked fire extinguishers in all living and machine-room areas. The engine room has an automatic CO2 fire-fighting system with a loud alarm and a one-minute delay before activation.

A dedicated high efficiency fire-pump is interconnected to several discharge hydrants and fire hoses throughout the vessel, and there is an additional auxiliary external gasoline-driven fire-fighting pump in the case of generator power shutdown.

Crew Training

All crew-members are regularly trained and certified for onboard emergencies, first-aid and fire-fighting techniques, and includes penetration of a fire-and-smoke-saturated compartment with a special fire-fighting suit and breathing mask.

What Other Liveaboard Operators Learn

This is a very comprehensive approach to vessel safety that other operators might do well to consider. When we take trips aboard such vessels, we have a right to expect a high level of safety, and recent tragic events are unforgivable. Ask the right questions about the approach to vessel safety when you book your next trip.

- John Bantin

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