Safety Net

There are numerous factors that pose a threat to marine transportation. The vastness of the ocean makes marine travel especially difficult and safety measures hard to enforce. Casualties, injuries and the loss of valuable vessels and equipment are rarely caused by a single person, but usually occur because of mistakes and miscommunication — both onboard and ashore — among an entire organization. By investigating these accidents, organizations such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) seek to understand what went wrong and how to prevent errors in the future.

The Dive Vessel, King Neptune

The dive vessel, King Neptune, broke from its moorings during severe weather on Dec. 30, 2014, in Avalon Harbor, Catalina Island, California. A patrol officer jumped on board from a safety boat in an attempt to tow the vessel to a safe location. He fell into the water, was pinned against the seawall and the vessel, and died. The King Neptune eventually broke apart and sank, suffering a loss valued at $1.5 million. Despite a small craft advisory issued by the National Weather Service earlier that day, the owner and part-time captain of the King Neptune decided not to add to the mooring lines and keep the vessel in the harbor.

NTSB Safety Issues: What Went Wrong?

Training: Regulations and safety guidelines for safe mooring in severe weather were not in place in Avalon Harbor that day. The officers on the patrol boat did not have the knowledge to determine whether jumping between the two vessels was safe. They also didn’t have sufficient knowledge of how to tow a vessel in inclement weather. Proper training could have prevented the patrol officer from making that fateful jump in the first place.

Communications: The officer who died did not take a radio with him and the safety crew did not establish a communication plan once on board the King Neptune. Developing a communication plan, especially during emergency situations of heightened risk, is essential for safety.

The Fishing Vessel, Blazer

On Nov. 29, 2014, a fishing vessel called Blazer sank in the Pacific Ocean 8 miles west of Oregon. Winds had increased throughout the night and the vessel began to list. The captain attempted to right the vessel, causing the crew to lose approximately 50 crab pots overboard. The vessel continued to lean at a greater degree, until eventually all on board abandoned ship. Some of the five crewmembers sustained minor injuries. The $950,000 fishing vessel was lost, and 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel and lube oil products were dumped into the ocean.

NTSB Safety Issue: What Was The Cause?

Stability: The Blazer was not required to have a stability test or comply to Federal Regulations because it was less than 79 feet long. The NTSB has noted that many fishermen do not know the principles of stability in fishing vessels. They recommend mandatory training in vessel stability and watertight integrity for all fishermen. The goal is to have all relevant parties understand how heavy fishing equipment can create instability and how to avoid future instances of capsizing and sinking.

The Savannah Ray

The fishing vessel, Savannah Ray, grounded on the shore of Long Island, Alaska, on Feb. 16, 2015. During the middle of the night the captain set the vessel’s course on autopilot and fell asleep in a chair next to the helm. Subsequently, 4 crewmembers had to be rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. The loss of the vessel was estimated at $800,000.

NTSB Safety Issue: Why Did This Happen?

Fatigue: Accidents related to fatigue are some of the most common in marine transportation. Due to the captain’s inattention, which was likely a result of inadequate sleep in the days prior, the vessel grounded. Some tips for preventing this include limiting hours of service, setting predictable work/sleep schedules and considering circadian rhythms when scheduling work patterns.

Christopher’s Joy

On Sept. 23, 2014, the fishing vessel, Christopher’s Joy, sank in the Gulf of Mexico near Louisiana. The vessel began listing when the master turned to port, causing water to enter through a watertight door that had been left open. Due to hazardous wind and sea conditions, and the lack of emergency training, the vessel capsized and sank. Two crewmembers died and the estimated $460,000 vessel was lost.

NTSB Safety Issue: How Could This Be Avoided?

Watertight Integrity: In order to maintain buoyancy and vessel stability, watertight integrity must be maximized. The vessel’s master had not performed drills designed to train the crew in instances of flooding. All watertight doors should remain closed at all times. Breaking this rule can directly contribute to the sinking of a vessel and possibly, to loss of life.


All who are involved in marine transportation should be trained and have an awareness of the issues that can cause accidents. Ensuring everyone is prepared with the right knowledge and equipment can lead to safe crewmembers and the avoidance of losing millions of dollars in damaged and lost vessels.

Learn More

Earning a master’s in emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University can help you increase your knowledge of the safety industry and demonstrate a continued commitment to learning and leadership. Whether you aspire to work at the governmental level or move into the private sector, our distinguished faculty of safety professionals delivers a comprehensive curriculum that can translate wherever safety matters most.

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