Sailing in open water carries a variety of hazards for seamen and other maritime workers. Unfortunately, employees are not just at risk when they are at sea. Many crew members have suffered severe or even fatal maritime accidents as they attempted to get on or off their vessels.

The Dangers of Moving Personnel Between Ships and Shore

maritime accident attorneyThere are a variety of methods used to allow workers to move from vessel to vessel, between ship and shore, and from one offshore structure to another. It doesn’t matter if a personnel transfer involves the entire crew or a single person—all necessary safety precautions must be used when leaving or gaining access to a vessel.

Crew members may be injured during a transfer on or off their ships via:

  • Gangplanks. There are many different types of gangways, bridges, and accommodation ladders, each with its own unique uses and hazards. Employers must ensure that each one is used as the manufacturer intended, and that proper handrails and nonslip surfaces are adequately installed. If there is the possibility of a fall overboard, safety nets should be used beneath the walkway.
  • Launch boats. Crew members may be transferred in small groups on launch boats, which are typically stowed away on large vessels and barges when not in use. The coxswain has a duty to ensure that the boat is functional, contains all necessary emergency equipment, and has adequate lifejackets and heaving lines.
  • Crew boats. Support vessels (also called crew boats) can transfer large groups of crew members between vessels. These must be kept stable as crews are embarking and disembarking, and must be operated with care to avoid accidents from pitching and rolling.
  • Baskets. Billy Pugh baskets, FROGs, and transfer capsules all require lifting and loading one or more passengers and moving them with a crane. Basket transfers can be dangerous, even in good weather and calm seas, and should only be used as a last resort when no other transfer method is available.
  • Helicopter. One of the most common ways to transfer personnel on open water and on oil platforms is also the most deadly: helicopter flights. While helicopters simplify the process of boarding and disembarking by removing the second vessel, they bring the additional risks of takeoff and landing. If a helicopter is flown in poor weather conditions or contains outdated or broken equipment, the resulting accident can cause multiple fatalities and injuries.

Who Is Responsible for a Personnel Transfer Injury at Sea?

From captains and crews of other vessels to longshoremen and crane operators, there are numerous people who may be involved in transferring personnel to and from a ship. When using transfer baskets, cranes must be checked to ensure they are properly erected, and crane operators should be fully trained before operating machinery.

It is the employer’s responsibility to take all proper safety procedures before a personnel transfer occurs. These duties will include briefing all crew members, transport ships, riggers, and other parties about the method of transfer and the types of equipment that will be used. Employers also have a duty to ensure that personnel are physically capable of boarding the target vessel successfully, and would be able to perform emergency maneuvers if something went wrong during the transfer.

Of course, crews and employers can only use the tools and equipment at their disposal to prevent injuries. Unsafe conditions on the vessel may qualify the ship as unseaworthy, giving rise to a claim against the shipowner. If the shipowner failed to adhere to a reasonable standard of care, you may be able to file a negligence lawsuit.

Contact Our Experienced Maritime Injury Attorneys Today

If you or someone you love has been hurt at sea, it is vital that you contact the experienced maritime injury attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer as soon as possible to learn your legal rights. Call 1-800-3-MAY-DAY today or download your complimentary copy of Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.


Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.