Reading the Tacoma newspaper this morning there was an article titled “Why do so many die in ferry accidents?”. Yesterday I received a link from a trade association I belong to for a USA Today article about out of water survival craft. The gist of the USA Today article is that our government had passed a law requiring that passenger carrying vessels provide survival craft that will allow victims to get out of the water, thus increasing their chance of survival.
Like everything else the government implements, there is a cost to industry for this added level of safety and industry has pushed back. Their argument is that there are not the statistics showing that the cost would really save any lives.
Many passenger carrying vessels have “life floats” like the image above. They allow one to hang on to something but don’t get you out of the water. Inflatable Buoyant Apparatuses, IBA’s, currently provide the best combination of capacity, weight and cost.
Victims can get out of the water and stay together for easier rescue. IBA’s work well with evacuation systems so everyone can get off the vessel in a hurry. In the overall scheme of things they are not overly expensive but not working for a company with passenger carrying vessels I can not comment on how the added expense would impact their bottom line.
The U.S. Coast Guard 17th District in Alaska created a voluntary program that allows a vessel operator to advertise that they carry additional safety equipment, above and beyond what is required. The vessel can obtain a rating of 1 to 5 stars, thus it is called the 5-Star Safety Program, where 1 star is granted just for complying with the existing regulations. With the 5-Star Program a vessel owner has an incentive to carry more and better safety equipment since they can use the rating as a sales tool. Granted this program only works because of competition between vessels for passengers. If you were operating a vessel in an area with no competition you might decide there are better ways to get additional business (passengers) and as a business person you have to look at the effectiveness of your investments.
So, what can we do? Voting with ones wallet always works especially if there are options and one carries better safety equipment. Write to Congress if that is your thing. Most importantly be aware of what equipment the vessel has to offer. Take a minute, look around and figure out what you (and your family) would do if there was an accident. They ask us to do just that every time we board a commercial aircraft and while many don’t listen after the hundredth time they have heard the announcement, most of what is said has become ingrained in our memory and hopefully would pop to the front if needed.
Plan for a disaster, that is something we teach and it is a good, free start.
Past president of the United States Marine Safety Association and retired sailor
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