What happened to the Master: Do you know?


While it’s not a question that most people have considered or even thought about it’s one that vessel owners and operators should. It’s not just vessel Master’s it should be considered for business managers as well.

But staying with the Master scenario what would your crew do if something happened to the Master?

Here’s a couple of examples to get you thinking…

  1. One of 2 deckhands onboard a trawler walked into the wheelhouse and found the Master lying unconscious on the wheelhouse deck.

What should he do?

What happened to the Master: Do you know?

  1. A charter vessel was on a night time delivery voyage when the Mate walked into the wheelhouse to relive the Master who was not there.

Where is the Master?

  1. Onboard a trawler that was working the Mate walked into the wheelhouse to let the Master know it was time to winch up but there was no Master.

What happened to the Master?

Do these examples sound strange, well it’s sad to say but all three are real life situations that actually occurred!

In scenario 1 the Master had suffered a heart attack (most likely due to the crew!) and while being attended to by the deckhands the vessel ran aground.

The Master in scenario 2 went into the engine room without letting anyone know (which was against the SMS procedures) and got his hand caught in machinery causing serious injuries.

Shorlink hand picture

In the last example the Master simply fell overboard from the wheelhouse deck while checking the wires. Fortunately, he was recovered a short time later.

Shorlink SOS picture

What do these 3 examples tell you?

Very simply Masters are not as bullet proof as many think they are and therefore every SMS should have a procedure for dealing with an Incapacitated Master.

Does your SMS have an Incapacitated Master procedure?

It’s a procedure we put in all the SMS manuals we develop and one that’s actually saved lives!

Shorlink’s Recommendation

We strongly recommend that you have a procedure to deal with a Master that’s become incapacitated in any way. You need to take into account potential causes and how to deal with them in the event the Master becomes incapacitated for any reason.

If you’re the Master then you want to be saved and if you’re the owner and the Master becomes incapacitated or is lost then you can become legally responsible if there is no procedure for dealing with an incapacitated or lost Master.


Our tip is to ensure you include the one thing we DO NOT seen in Incapacitated Master procedures we’ve reviewed and that is “what’s the boat doing and where is it”.

Those two things are what can save you from having a single emergency to encountering multiple emergencies situations at once.