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Getting passenger vessels and crews ready for a return to sea


Almost overnight, many passenger vessels suddenly found themselves without passengers. As the pandemic raged on, sight-seeing boats, ferries, and other vessels saw the demand disappear. With few passengers to serve them, many boats were laid up and temporarily put out of commission.

Now that tourism is picking up, those same vessels will be recommissioned and will be welcoming passengers again. Yet starting back up poses several safety issues that many vessel operators may not have thought about in their excitement to get back to work. Let’s take a look at several key risk factors for passenger vessels as the summer tourist season picks up speed:

The Hiring Dilemma
For some vessel operators, finding qualified help is a problem in the current labor market. Because reduced need during the pandemic lasted so long, many workers had to be furloughed. Once operations ramped up, a number did not return, presumably because they got other jobs.

The result: a loss of experienced workers. This shortage is one that has hit the industry from two angles – the loss of skilled workers and the lack of qualified candidates to fill those empty positions. It has also resulted in hiring managers considering other workers who may or may not have experience in the marine industry or on a vessel.

Some of the most critical elements to hiring new crew members are conducting a pre-employment physical and conducting a thorough background check. This ensures that the person being hired does not have pre-existing injuries or conditions that could result in a costly claim. By checking in advance, vessel owners can pinpoint any potential issues that might not be mentioned in an interview.

All employees and crew members who have not worked on board for an extended period should go through a reorientation of the vessel, its systems, and the safety procedures that are in place. Even the most experienced hands can get a little rusty if they have been out of practice for a while. This reorientation should include location of safety equipment, life jackets and life rafts as well as a review of their job duties, which may include assisting passengers who are getting on to and off of the boat.

The majority of claims involving passengers are slip-and-fall injuries. As part of their duties, employees should regularly inspect the boat’s safety equipment, such as non-slip grip tape and other non-slip surfaces, make sure any signage is clearly visible, and make sure the integrity of the vessel’s equipment, like hand rails and seats, are intact.

Vessel Readiness
Before the vessel is put back into service, owners should complete a proper recommissioning survey. Parts can be compromised by rust, motorized elements could lack proper lubrication, tubes and wire casings could have developed cracks or splits. A qualified marine surveyor can complete a Condition & Valuation (C&V) survey, which will clearly show if there is any part of the vessel or its safety equipment that requires attention before she can be safely put back into commission. The C&V survey should include a full hull examination, a check of all electrical and water supply systems, an inspection of all motorized parts and steering, and a thorough examination of the safety equipment and safety manuals kept aboard the vessel.

As we enter the “new normal,” perhaps those safety manuals should be updated to include a comprehensive process for handling safety amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. How will the crew screen passengers? What will the new cleaning procedures be? What additional training does the staff require? What limitations might need to be placed on passenger movement or activities while on board? All of these considerations should be part of the revised risk management plan.

We at AXA XL use these surveys, safety manuals, and risk management plans as part of our risk assessment process. A comprehensive survey and safety program showing the love, foresight, and maintenance put into a passenger vessel operation goes a long way towards gaining underwriter support and more favorable policy terms!

As more vessels are put back into commission, operators should take some time to examine every aspect of their operations.

Passenger Safety
The safety plan should include how to prepare arriving passengers for their time on board. Managing passenger safety must include alerting passengers to both the life-saving equipment placement and use, and the precautions they need to take while on board the vessel. All vessel operators should use ample signage to alert passengers of potential hazards. Crew members and employees should also be on alert to detect, report and mitigate any risky passenger behavior.

The US Coast Guard strongly recommends that passenger vessel operators announce or post that standing or stepping on railings and benches is prohibited, and post warning signage that alerts passengers to the penalties for entering the water in an unauthorized manner. Again, most passenger claims are slip-and-fall-type injuries, so anything that can be done to reduce the likelihood of a passenger slipping and falling will help limit these claims. Non-skid decking, grip tape on stairs, brightly colored tape on top and bottom stairs and other hazards, and proper signage have a direct impact on reducing passenger injuries.

As with other safety precautions, COVID-19 safety measures should be shared with passengers at the time of booking and with adequate signage and reminders while on board. Make sure guests understand what precautions they will be expected to take, and what the protocol is regarding testing or any other health screening, along with their signed consent to undergo such screening or testing.

Afloat Once Again
As more vessels are put back into commission, operators should take some time to examine every aspect of their operations. From hiring practices and training to vessel maintenance and passenger preparedness, more attention to the safe operation of any vessel is critical as boats head back to open waters.

Revamping hiring practices to include pre-employment screening helps reduce the number of crew claims. Examining the vessel’s operational readiness, including all components and equipment, can ensure that nothing will break down and put yet another damper on building the business back up to its regular capacity. By establishing a culture of safety that includes every aspect of the vessel and its operations, passenger vessel operators can reduce the instance of injury and breakdown, improve the voyage for everyone on board, and most importantly enjoy being out on the water again!


About the Authors

Jeffrey Loechner is AXA XL's Underwriting Manager of Marine Hull. Allison Jolls is a Senior Underwriter for our Marine team.

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Global Asset Protection Services, LLC, and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provides risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular type of loss or damage. AXA XL Risk. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any publication will make a facility or operation safe or healthful, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. Save where expressly agreed in writing, AXA XL Risk Consulting and its related and affiliated companies disclaim all liability for loss or damage suffered by any party arising out of or in connection with this publication, including indirect or consequential loss or damage, howsoever arising. Any party who chooses to rely in any way on the contents of this document does so at their own risk.

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