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Boats - Use of Small Workboats

The following is based on the NERC Guidance Note: safety in fieldwork (March 1997) and should be used by Schools/Units when drawing up a Code of Practice for work involving the use of small workboats.

Small Boats and Inflatables

Small craft in this context are those capable of carrying between 2 and 12 persons, after which safety regulations issued by the Department of Transport apply. The 12 persons referred to are additional to the crew.

Working from small craft under any circumstances can be dangerous; you should plan your work thoroughly and be aware of the hazards likely to be encountered. Avoid working alone. Keep a lookout for abnormal waves when boarding or loading a boat, particularly on a beach.

Most of the following points have been extracted from the Department of Transport publication entitled "A GUIDE FOR SMALL BOAT USERS", which summarises all the essentials for small craft use.

  1. Make sure that the craft you propose to use is suitable for the job in hand.

  2. Check that it is in a good state of repair and seaworthy.

  3. Know its capabilities, i.e.

    • Carrying capacity
    • Speed
    • Endurance and/or range at full power (if motorised)
    • Carry adequate spare fuel.

  4. Know where equipment is kept and ensure that you are capable of using it.

  5. Make sure that you have charts of the area of operation, that they are up-to-date and that you have studied them.

  6. Try to obtain local information on tidal races, rocks, wrecks or other local hazards likely to be encountered.

  7. Carry an up-to-date set of tide-tables.

  8. Check local by-laws.

  9. The boat handler must obtain the latest weather forecast, be aware of tide times and currents, and seek advice from experts such as the coastguard and local harbour master about any particular hazards in the area of work.

  10. If you are likely to be preparing and cooking food make sure you have adequate fuel and water and the equipment works.

  11. Everyone MUST wear a personal flotation suit, lifejacket or approved buoyancy aid during all passages in small boats. No single type of lifejacket is ideal for every task; for example, self-inflating lifejackets can be hazardous in rough conditions when the boat is shipping water. You need to strike a balance between ease of use and total security.

  12. Make sure that the requisite safety equipment and emergency kit is on board and you know where it is stowed and how to use it in an emergency.

  13. Do not make a habit of trailing your hand in the water - a moment's inattention could result in crushed fingers.

  14. Check your safety equipment against the following list:-

    • Anchor
    • Baler
    • Bellows or inflator for inflatables
    • Boathook
    • Charts
    • Compass
    • In-date distress flares
    • Fire extinguisher
    • First-aid kit
    • Life jackets must be of the self-inflating type to confirm to BSI 3595; the currently approved NERC model is the Beaufort Offshore Automatic. Clothing must never be worn outside a self- inflating jacket
    • Log Book
    • Loudhailer
    • Marine band radio for sea work (or emergency transmitter on Channel 16)
    • Paddle (for motorised craft) or oars
    • Repair kit in the case of inflatables
    • Sea Anchor
    • Tool Kit
    • Torch - spare batteries - for navigation light
    • Engine spares (spark plugs, shear pins, gaskets, adequate tools)

  15. The boat is to be handled only by staff authorised by the School/Unit. A list of authorised personnel to be kept by the School/Unit. A boat maintenance officer will be appointed by the School/Unit to take responsibility for the routine maintenance of the boat and associated equipment.

  16. The boat handler is responsible for the safety of the boat and passengers; you must take his advice on safety matters. He will liaise with the maintenance officer concerning the safety of the boat and associated equipment.

  17. It is good practice to carry a reserve outboard motor, and mandatory if the boat is liable to be operating in circumstances from which the crew would have difficulty in extracting themselves without outside assistance if the main engine were to break down. It is the responsibility of the boat handler to decide whether or not it is safe to operate without a spare outboard motor.

  18. The boat handler or officer in charge having checked the preceding requirements should then:

    • inform the coastguard in writing of the operation to be under taken prior to starting work offshore. HM Coastguard operate a Yacht and Boat Safety Scheme free of charge for this purpose
    • inform the shore party or School/Unit (if local) daily in writing of the area of operation, e.t.d. and e.t.a. at base;
    • inform both parties of safe return.

    • Keep a record of boat use, including hours of use, fuel used. Any incidents affecting the boat or its engine are to be entered in the log daily;
    • Ensure that the life jackets, outboard motor, boat and any spare motor are in a fully serviceable condition;
    • Keep the boat trailer in a roadworthy condition.

  19. Make sure that anywhere fuel vapour or leaks from gas cylinders and bottles could accumulate, is adequately ventilated.

  20. In normal circumstances the boat should not travel more than 5 nautical miles from shore to parent ship. The limits must be stated in the operational instructions for each project. If you use high speed boats then you may allow a greater range than 5 miles, provided that the boats are properly handled and the project leader and parent vessel master (if appropriate) agree. You must carry portable radio for communications between the boat and parent vessel and/or shore base, and make scheduled radio calls to maintain contact and arrange rendezvous with the parent vessel (if used). The boat handler must agree procedures for general use, scheduled contacts and use of the emergency frequency with all users before starting work.

  21. The boat is to seek shelter if the wind exceeds Force 5, except in harbours, rivers and estuaries and on inland lochs where there is a short fetch, when operations may continue up to and including Force 6. It is the responsibility of the boat handler to decide whether or not it is safe to proceed.

  22. Except in emergencies, boats are only to be used between sunrise and sunset.

  23. Any incidents affecting the safety of the boat or passengers are to be reported to the School/Unit and must be noted in the boat log.

  24. There must be a minimum of 2 crew for every small boat operation.


Environmental Health and Safety Services contact details

University of St Andrews
Bute Building Queens Terrace
St Andrews
KY16 9TS
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1334 462750
Fax:44 (0)1334 462747