More and more ports around the world are now using helicopters to transfer the pilot to and from the vessel instead of the more traditional use of a pilot boat, North P&I Club informs. Despite the fact that this means that pilots can now transfer in increasingly challenging weather conditions, it also introduces new risks, of which ships’ crews should be aware of.
The ship’s master should understand the latest copy of the ICS Guide to Helicopter / Ship Operations. In addition, the port’s guidelines and requirements should be sought and adhered to.
After consulting the above, the ship’s crew should establish a risk assessment to be used along with any existing SMS procedures for this type of operation. Generic ‘one size fits all’ risk assessments should not be used, as each port and operation will have different risks.
For this reason, operators are called to consider the following when carrying out their risk assessment:
- Wind direction and speed: Helicopters will usually fly into the wind as this enables them to hover more effectively and maintain their stability. Therefore, the Master might need to steer a steady speed and straight course into the wind. Monitor the wind direction before and during the operation and identify potential obstructions that may require the vessel to change course during this period;
- Visibility: should be good and adhere to set limits;
- Sea State: Rough seas obviously form an unfavourable motion for helicopter operations. Assess the maximum viable conditions and adhere to them;
The ship’s master and helicopter pilot must agree on the most efficient form of communications and make sure there is no cross-talk on the channel. Where it is safe to do so, follow the commands of the helicopter pilot. Operators must remember that when operating close to a vessel, helicopter noise can make communications difficult.
Prepare the area on deck
All loose items should be lashed or removed from the area so as not to be affected by the helicopter’s down draft. Any antenna nearby that could cause issues should be lowered.
Crewmembers must be equipped with the necessary PPE and be fully briefed in a toolbox talk. They must also be fully aware of their responsibilities and the agreed communication methods during the operation. Once again, they must bare in mind that helicopter noise could affect radio communications.
Charged hoses with a foam eductor should be rigged to surround the winch site. Fully dressed fire crews should be ready and in a safe position. Additional portable fire extinguishers should be readily available.
Rescue equipment should also be readily available to the deck crew. The North P&I Club suggests that the rescue boat is ready for immediate use and the first aid team is on standby.
Consider displaying lights showing that the ship is restricted in its ability to manoeuvre.
Grounding the winch wire
When the winch wire has been lowered to the deck, it is crucial to be properly grounded, so as to avoid discharge of static electricity. This is usually achieved by enabling the earthing strap to contact the ship’s deck. The crew must not touch the winch wire before it is grounded, as a serious injury might take place.
Helicopter operations are not excluded from P&I cover. It is very important, however, that the Master or agent does not sign or agree to any further terms and conditions regarding the helicopter operations.