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. A deckhand on trawler with 2 deckhands onboard walked into the wheelhouse and found the Master lying unconscious on the wheelhouse deck. What should he do?

  1. A charter vessel was on a night time delivery voyage when the mate entered 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 advise 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 3 are real life situations that actually occurred!

In scenario 1 the Master had suffered a heart attack (probably 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 (against the SMS procedures) and got his hand caught in machinery causing serious injuries

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

What do these 3 examples tell you?

Very simply Masters are not bullet proof 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 SMS manuals we develop and one that’s actually saved lives!

Shorlink’s Recommendation

We strongly recommend ensuring 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.


My tip is to ensure you include the one thing I have NOT seen in every Incapacitated Master procedure I’ve reviewed and that is “what’s the boat doing and where is it”.

Those two things are what can save you from having 1 emergency situation to encountering multiple emergencies.