Planning for Marine Safety as Hurricane Season Begins

marine safety, hurricane season, maritime

Hurricanes cause maritime disasters every year.  Sadly, there is no guarantee that marine safety practices will ensure the safety of a vessel or prevent maritime injury among workers.  Now that hurricane season in the United States is upon us, it is the perfect time to consider marine safety and how maritime workers can stay safe.

The best way to minimize a hurricane’s impact at sea or in port is vigilant monitoring of hurricane potential.  Preparedness coupled with some fundamental safety guidelines can reduce the risk of a disaster.

Recent Catastrophic Hurricane Seasons

Recent storm seasons have left parts of the U.S.  crippled.  It would be hard to forget the impact of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  The two storms that crippled Southeast Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, and caused widespread destruction in the Eastern Caribbean.   Some estimates count the cost of damages from these storms up to $200 billion.

Because the storms blasted through and damaged major oil-producing resources, the country stands to lose another $30 billion from the damage over time.  Hurricane Harvey caused record flooding in Texas and reduced U.S.  oil refining capacity by about a quarter.   It took many months before Texas oil refineries were back to capacity.

Overcoming Problems of Forecasting

Even with highly advanced Doppler radar systems and other meteorological tools, there is still a surprising amount of error in forecasting the intensity of a tropical weather system, as well as where it can go.   During hurricane season, continual risk analysis can save lives and save a vessel from sinking.

During hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) issues four Tropical Cyclone Forecast/Advisory Messages (TCM) per day when storm systems are active.  Mariners can make use of these TCMs to make marine safety decisions.  TCMs use the latest information about the strength of a hurricane and where it is moving.  When used appropriately, it can be an invaluable tool that allows ship operators to make sound decisions and avoid hurricanes.

Marine Safety Guidelines for Avoiding Hurricanes at Sea

Predicting hurricanes is inherently uncertain, so mariners should follow a few simple marine safety guidelines to limit the potential of a dangerous and damaging encounter between a ship and a hurricane.

34 Knot Rule

Ships should avoid the 34 knot wind field of a hurricane.  Thirty-four knots is an important number because this wind speed can result in an insurmountable deficit to ship maneuverability.   A clunky ship unable to be maneuvered is a sitting duck in a hurricane.

1-2-3 Rule

According to the NHC, this rule is the single most important tool in accounting for the inherent tracking errors associated with hurricanes.   Using information from the TCM, the 1-2-3 rule establishes a minimum distance that ships ought to maintain from a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean.   Knowing a minimum distance to keep away from a powerful storm allows mariners to employ a generous buffer zone to keep their vessels safe.

Overestimating the buffer zone is the best marine safety practice when coping with high forecast uncertainty, crew members with limited experience, or any problems with the vessel’s handling or seaworthiness.

Never Cross the “T”

Experienced mariners should know never to cross the track, or “T”, of a hurricane.   Passing through the track of a hurricane invites many negative effects to ship maneuverability including vessel speed and handling, sudden accelerations, wind shear, storm surge, or dangerous winds.  These expose a ship to conditions for which it is not prepared – which can result in disaster.  It is important to adjust course and speed in order to keep vessels clear of the danger of a hurricane.

Assessing Options

Never leave yourself with only a single navigation option during hurricane season.  Especially in the confined waters of the Gulf of Mexico, room to maneuver is a significant factor.  Generally speaking, deciding early on to move away from areas of restricted maneuverability is a sensible choice.

Port Specific Risk Analysis

Ships that seek shelter in a port, or have plans to move to or away from a port, should consider all of the above.  These are important considerations when factoring the risks and benefits of certain navigation choices.

Marine Safety for Vessels at Port During a Hurricane

Above all else, preparing a vessel to weather a hurricane should start as soon as possible.  Scrambling to secure rigging or gear as a hurricane approaches is a good way for maritime workers to get hurt.  Instead, maritime work environments should remain in a state of hurricane preparedness from the very start of hurricane season.

Some of these early marine safety preparations include:

  • Evaluating and replacing any lines or rigging that are getting old or frail.  The absolute worst time for a rope to snap is in the middle of a hurricane.
  • Consider setting multiple anchors if at all possible.  Keeping the ship still while at port can be an important factor in avoiding injury.
  • Reduce, remove, or stow as much cordage or equipment from the surface of the ship as possible.   Decrease the surface area that the wind can blow against in every way you can to keep the ship as still as possible.

Have Questions about Marine Safety and Your Work Environment?

Maritime employers have a responsibility to make careful risk assessments during hurricane season. Employers can be held liable for injuries a maritime worker suffers due to a hurricane or failing to move away from it.

As a maritime worker, there are specific laws that protect your right to demand compensation for any injuries you suffer on the job or as a result of your employer’s negligence.

Maritime injury law is an exceedingly complex area of law.  If you are injured because of a hazardous work environment or the negligence of your employer, contact Maritime Injury Guide.  You may qualify for benefits under The Jones Act or the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).  These benefits can help cover the cost of medical care, as well as compensating you for the cost of lost wages.

To find out more about your rights and options, call 1-866-871-8422 today or request more information online.