Big Impact / Low Cost Safety Upgrades For Your Ship

ship's general alarm shipboard emergency
The general alarm on a bulk carrier docked in Galena Park, TX. (c) 2010 Robert Almeida

In an ideal world, shipping companies would give captains a blank check to purchase all the latest equipment and materials to help make their ships safer, however considering the financial difficulties facing the global shipping industry, we are certainly not in this ideal world.

Considering the budget constraints that we all work under, here are a few ideas that make a big impact on safety with little or no cost to the owner.

Emergency Escape
Photoluminescence signs can get expensive especially if you select the top packages from companies like Seaward Safety. These sign packages include a full audit of the ship and a comprehensive plan of options that make a big difference in the ability of crewmembers to escape topside during blackouts or emergencies.

Every ship should have basic photo-luminescent  signs showing lifeboat and emergency muster locations, however that’s just a start. It’s an established fact that in most cases, it’s not the fire that kills, but the smoke.  Smoke and heat rises forcing victims to crawl to safety rendering the bright escape lights and signs at (or above) eye level useless.  To escape from a fire you need low level escape signs.

If you cannot afford a comprehensive package, there is a cheap and effective solution… Purchase rolls of tape with arrows, cut out each arrow, then consult your station bill for escape routes. Visit each route and place arrows every 5-10 feet along the baseboards.

Confined Space Entry
gCaptain has written about technology that makes confined space entries safer including PASS Alarms and portable radio repeaters, but these both come at a cost. A simple solution for emergency communication is a wrench and training. Come up with a plan that uses a series of knocks on the bulkhead to communicate with the entry watch in the event of radio failure.  I like to use:

1 knock = I’m ok
2 knocks = I’m backing out
5 or more knocks = Send help

Each knock is repeated by the tank watch and the sound can always be heard loud and clear.

Radio Communications
The biggest failures of internal emergency radio communications are a lack of radios and battery failure. These issues can only be resolved by issuing each crew member with emergency duties, a radio that is carried with them at all times, and a charger they can keep in their staterooms.  There is no cheap solution to this problem.  Batteries are expensive, but are usually included in yearly budgets.  Most people reorder the same batteries each year without much thought, but for only a few dollars more, you can slowly upgrade to lithium-ion technology by simply changing the order. The cost of lithium ion batteries is slightly more than the older technology yet they will last longer on-scene, and they have a longer life expectancy… a true win-win.