A common saying within fire fighting is “Let no man’s ghost return to say his training let him down!” I am no fire fighter but I feel this quote is very relevant when dealing with Mother Nature. The ocean can be very dangerous and we believe that training is essential to know what to do should an emergency take place. We decided to enrol into a number of international accredited maritime safety courses. They are known as STCW’s or Standards of Training and Watchkeeping. These safety courses are required for any professionals intending to work at sea. We were seriously expecting to feel like “a fish out of water” when walking into the lecture room on day one.
We arrived early on a Thursday morning and found out that we would be beginning our training with an Elementary First Aid course that focussed on the marine environment. Our instructor provided a comprehensive two-day course in all areas of first aid. During the first aid course, we met a number of young people intending to work on Super Yachts as deckhands or stewardesses; they were enthusiastic and eager to learn as much as they could. Having completed a number of Australian first aid courses before starting this adventure, it was very interesting to see the differences in the style and reference bodies that the South African and International Maritime Organisation use. For example, here in South Africa you are shown how to use tourniquets and an alternate method for saving someone who’s choking. It was very refreshing seeing that there is still a high level of competency in the maritime industry.
After completing the two-day first aid course, Designated Security Duties was next. This course was probably the most eye-opening course excluding the Marine Fire fighting. Designated Security Duties provided a very real eye opening snapshot into security and piracy at sea as well as what seafarers can be exposed to. Piracy is quite prevalent in areas like Somalia and the Gulf of Guinea with vessels and crews being hijacked and held for ransom. The course provided a good exposure to the types of crime that plagues the shipping industry with container theft and smuggling being the most prevalent. This course also provided us with excellent practical exposure to creating a security plan for our vessel including weak points, access points and methods to mitigate the risks. Our lecturer Rodger Shaw was excellent in his delivery method providing us with the information that was specifically relevant to sailing vessels, as these courses tend to focus more on the commercial marine environment. Rodger’s sense of humour also kept the topic fun and engaging when it became a bit tedious. Rodger also ran the Personal Safety and Social Responsibility course that we were enrolled in. This course was a little more tedious with procedures regarding personal health and safety on-board, however the course provided very important lessons to any seafarer. For example using appropriate harnesses for the height when working at heights. This is very relevant to us when we need to service or inspect our masts. Other very important lessons that apply to all seafarers are to ensure that one disposes their waste appropriately. This is particularly relevant with the well-documented tons of plastic and waste that is ending up in our oceans. It again reinforced the need to take action and responsibility for our oceans.
The last course we did at the Maritime Safety Training and Development was the Personal Survival Techniques. This course gave us a real look into what to expect should our worst nightmare was to take place. Catching Up! Is kitted with an 8 person VIKING RescYOU Pro life raft. Should something catastrophic happen and we would need to abandon our vessel this life raft would be our survival vessel. This 2 course provides insight into what to do and what not to do when you need to abandon ship either into a life raft or into the water. The reality of the situation is that should anything happen to you in the middle of the ocean and you have an Activated EPIRB with you, your chances of survival are lowered if you are not rescued within 72 hours. Life rafts are equipped with 3 days worth of food and water rations so your actions in the life raft are very important to ensure you maintain your energy, health and minimise water loss. This course also had a practical element, which required us to jump off a 3-metre platform and climb into a life raft. I am a reasonably fit person and I have to say that climbing into that raft was very difficult. I can only imagine how the difficulty would increase if there was rolling waves and a freezing cold ocean.
These skills I hope we never ever have to use but I have to say it’s incredibly important for anyone who intends to cross an ocean to know the risks and how to at least respond to a situation. Knowing how to deal with an emergency at sea can someday save one of your crew or even yourself. Not to mention every boat is bound by law to respond to other vessels in distress so the skills we’ve learnt here could one day save another mariner. The STCW courses at Maritime Safety Training and Development provided us all an insight into the potential nightmare situations that could happen at sea and did an incredible job teaching us the skills in how to deal with them. The only one I haven’t discussed here was our time doing our Marine Fire Fighting but that deserves its own article.