The Skipper’s Duty of Care is one of the most profound and fundamental principles of nautical law. It’s based on the concept that the Skipper is in charge of the vessel and is ultimately responsible for its safety and that of its passengers and crew.
It applies equally to small trailer boats, large craft, cruise ships or massive super tankers.
This duty of care applies even before you hit the water. Prior to any day out, a Skipper should know that their vessel is adequately prepared and seaworthy. This is particularly important, if the vessel hasn’t been used for some time. Batteries need to be checked, fuel tanks flushed and topped up, navigation lights checked, bilge pumps tested and, in the case of yachts, sails should be unpacked and thoroughly checked. Rigging and fittings should also be inspected and tested.
When you’re on the water, you need to remain alert to the conditions around you. Be aware of any fixed objects, underwater hazards. Make sure you know and understand the Collision Regulations (ColRegs) and know how to take collision avoidance action. You need to ensure that your passengers or crew are wearing suitable attire, are aware of the location of all safety equipment, such as PFDs, flares and fire extinguishers and are briefed about precisely what to do in the event of an emergency. Ultimately, if you take others out on the water, their lives are in your hands. It’s up to you to make sure their trust is well-placed.
By taking the Skipper’s duty of care seriously, observing the regulations and meeting the safety requirements for your vessel every Skipper can do their part in reducing the number of boating incidents on the water.
- Monitor the safety and integrity of your vessel, making sure your vessel is suitable and capable of making the planned trip.
- Maintain a regular maintenance schedule for engines and onboard electrics.
- Monitor weather, tides and local conditions. If in doubt about the conditions, don’t go.
- Leave a voyage plan with the local Marine Rescue Unit or a responsible person. Inform them where you plan to go and the estimated time of return.
- Maintain and carry the correct safety equipment for the vessel, as well as, all necessary supplies, such a fuel, food and water.
- Study a chart of the area you intend to boat in. Are there any rocks, submerged obstructions, speed limits or local rules you need to be aware of.
- Fully brief your passengers on the location of all the safety equipment, especially the location of lifejackets and how to don them.
- Outline any associated risks which may arise including what is expected of them in the event of an emergency.
- Monitor the vessels stability and do not exceed the passenger carrying limits.
- Maintain your state of fitness and ability to safely operate the vessel in all conditions.
- Consider the needs of your passengers and crew. Do they have any medical conditions or are they prone to sea sickness.
- Whilst underway maintain a proper lookout and avoid a collision or grounding at all times, especially in times of restricted visibility and heightened risk.
It’s the Skipper’s Duty of Care to look out for the safety of their vessel, passengers and crew, as well as those around them. Whether you’re at the helm of a small “tinnie” or a large cruiser or yacht, it’s your responsibility to ensure the safety of those aboard, as well as other vessels in the vicinity.