5 safety hazards at sea and how to avoid them

5 safety hazards at sea and how to avoid them

Safety hazards at sea abound in the Merchant Marine, and following all of the protocols on board a ship can literally be the difference between life and death. Ships are complex mechanisms with a lot of moving parts and precarious opportunities for accidents. Avoiding hazards at sea starts with being alert and understanding where and when accidents can happen.


Lifeboat drills are one of the leading causes of safety accidents at sea.

At Out2Sea, we’re always concerned and saddened when we hear about accidents in the maritime industry. To help make your work safer, we thought we’d explain five common safety hazards at sea and how to avoid them.

Slips and falls

We put this safety hazard at the top because it applies to almost any seafarer, regardless of department. While the most common (and costly) area for slips and falls is the ship’s deck, accidents can also happen in the engine room and other places.

Slippery surfaces, lack of situational awareness and improper equipment can lead to serious, sometimes fatal, slips and falls. To help protect themselves and fellow crew, mariners should make sure they leave the deck area clean and free of any slippery substances. Never leave stray items on the floor, especially in areas that see a lot of foot traffic. It’s also vital that mariners wear non-skid safety shoes when doing any work in locations where footing might get difficult.

Electrical shock

Of all the potential hazards at sea, electrical shock might have the most potential to catch seafarers off guard. Ships contain numerous electrical wires and connections, which engineers and electricians work with nearly every day.

To minimize your risk of electrical shock, wear protective equipment like rubber gloves and knee pads when working with electrical connections. Never, ever wear metal jewelry or other conductive items.

Again, always try to look out for the safety of fellow crew members. After working with a panel box, make sure all electrical connections are safely inside so that no one else can accidentally touch them.

Confined spaces

Sometimes doing repair and/or maintenance work on board a ship requires entering a tight, enclosed space with limited ventilation. Extreme caution is required in these scenarios and it’s important to follow established safety protocols and guidelines. Before even sending a crew member into an enclosed space, you need to have some means of rescuing a person who may become incapacitated while performing work. This means a harness or other life line is necessary.

It goes without saying that there should always be at least one person standing by, who can come to the assistance of the person doing the work. Since oxygen is often limited, and a crew member should monitor the area for oxygen content before a person even enters a confined space.

Mooring operations

Dealing with mooring operations is one of the biggest hazards at sea, and many accidents occur due to line parting. When it comes to safety in mooring operations, merchant mariners must make sure that all equipment, including mooring lines, are in good working condition before doing anything.

Since mooring is inherently risky, it’s also a good idea not to have too many people in the area. Make sure that only the necessary crew members are on deck for the operation. Any crew member that is on deck should also be aware of snap-back areas. Sometimes, the markings on ships for snap-back zones aren’t completely accurate. To ensure maximum safety, sailors should really consider the entire deck a snap-back zone.

Lifeboat drills

Believe it or not, one of the primary sources of accidents in the maritime industry are lifeboat drills. In fact, a 2014 study by a UK safety group indicated that lifeboats are responsible for 16 percent of fatalities suffered by merchant mariners.

To minimize safety hazards, a crew should keep a close eye on the lifeboat release mechanism, as this is one of the leading causes of lifeboat accidents. In fact, the release mechanism should be inspected more than once each month – not just immediately before running the lifeboat drill.

We publish a monthly e-magazine on issues of interest to merchant mariners. Got any ideas for future articles? Contact us today – we love to hear from our community!

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