Drills. Are they important?

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Anybody who asks are regular drills that important have most likely not been in a major emergency situation! An emergency that puts the vessel &/or people onboard at a high risk of sustaining a major injury or loosing their life.

It’s critical too not only the safety of your vessel, persons onboard and the environment, but also other people on the water who are often less than vigilant when it comes to keeping a lookout!

While AMSA go to great lengths to ensure commercial operators follow watchkeeping requirements, little is done in relation to the recreational sector.

All the more reason to know your crew can handle emergency situations safety and efficiently and that only comes from training and undertaking regular drills.

It’s vital that your crew have the appropriate training in both emergency procedures and daily operations.

Quite often it’s a failure to understand a daily task properly that leads to an emergency situation: e.g. bunkering (re-fuelling) is a classic example. If the crew member doesn’t know the process to follow in an emergency situation you can end up with a major problem.

So…the first point is to make sure all your crew know and understand their duties in relation to all tasks they are involved in.

Moving on from there, it’s critical all crew know how to deal with…

Emergency Situations that may arise and these include:

  • Fire, not just in the engine room but all areas of the vessel
  • Person Overboard (POB)
  • Person unaccountably missing
  • Injury or medical emergency
  • Collision
  • Grounding
  • Flooding
  • Adverse weather
  • Abandon ship
  • And any others relevant to your specific operations.

The first step is to ensure all crew know the emergency procedures in your SMS and know them off by heart. Anything less leaves you open to problems when dealing with emergencies.

Once they understand their role in emergency situations, the next step is for them to identify and use the appropriate equipment: e.g. portable fire extinguishers, which ones are used for what?

This means you must ensure they have hands on training and regular practice to ensure all that knowledge and skills are not forgotten.

Now they have all that together, the next big problem we see is that when people run drills they run something simple to save time: e.g. an engine room fire drill.

That’s great but in real life situations there’s usually more than one thing happening.

Here’s how we recommend structuring a fire drill…

  1. Determine where the fire is going to be; e.g. engine room, galley, accommodation, etc.
  2. Identify the fuel source; e.g. electrical, oil, etc.
  3. Determine the severity of the fire; e.g. is it going to be controllable or uncontrollable
  4. Identify at least 1 injury that occurs due to the fire

That’s just a few things we like to consider when developing a fire drill. In real terms any fire drill should only take a few minutes from start to finish so stop saying “time is a problem”.

The real problem is not being able to deal with the fire or any other emergency in an appropriate timeframe.

Below is one of the scenarios we use for fire drills in our training

  • Fire starts in accommodation (this usually means an electrical fire)
  • Fire starts out small then becomes uncontrollable
  • This leads to having to abandon ship
  • A crew member suffered burns

What do we get from this drill scenarios?

  1. Fire assessment and initial response
  2. Dealing with a developing fire
  3. Injury – burns
  4. Assembly stations
  5. Launching ILR or Carley floats
  6. Abandon ship.

As you can see this situation covers of on a list of drill requirements and should take no more than a few minutes to complete.

When you undertake a drill it’s vital that all partake in a debrief. If the drill was good then look for ways you can make it better. If there were failures when running the drill, that’s OK because any failures can be identified in the debrief and addressed accordingly.

This means that next time you run that particular drill it should be much better! It’s a simple matter of continual improvement because no drill is going to be perfect, the idea of the debrief is to help improve your crew ability to deal with emergencies!

Shorlink’s Recommendation

Number one recommendation is to ensure you run regular drills based on potential emergency situations relevant to your operations. By regular we mean not every 6 months because it does not develop muscle memory it’s just going through the motions to tick the box…not good!

While undertaking regular drills you must record them in the required manner because if not recorded they are considered not to have been done.


Here’s our tip to help you keep safe and deal with onboard emergencies. Set up a drill schedule that fits in with your operations. Basically, our preference is to do a fire drill every month ensuring you do them based on different areas of the vessel.

A POB drill can be every month but we’re happy to go with 2 months between them. You then incorporate other emergency situations accordingly. Wayne, who is Shorlink’s Principal, advises clients to never go more than 2 months without conducting drills.

Need a drill schedule developed, contact our office for assistance.

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