The Incident

The ferry was providing a regular passenger/ commuter service on a busy waterway and was on its third run of the day. The skipper was feeling tired and finding it difficult to remain alert. He had started work on board at 0500 after finishing a night shift in a land-based occupation. At the previous stop, the skipper had sat back in his chair, closed his eyes and fallen asleep for a few moments until woken by the VHF radio. He then readied himself, manoeuvred the ferry off the berth and increased the ferry’s speed to 29kts.

About 4 minutes later, the skipper reduced the ferry’s speed to 12kts as it approached the next stop. He then sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. Moments later, the skipper awoke with a start to find the ferry heading straight for a pontoon only 50m ahead. He immediately set full thrust astern and attempted to turn the ferry, but a heavy landing could not be avoided.

Consequently, the ferry struck the pontoon. Most of the passengers and crew were seated at the time of the impact, but those who were standing were thrown forward, with two passengers and two crew suffering minor injuries.

Damage to the ferry’s port bow above the waterline required it to be taken out of service for repair.

Lessons learned

  1. Tiredness and fatigue are phenomena to which all humans are prone; no one is exempt. Burning candles at both ends is not a sensible preparation for a bridge watch. Looking after yourself, particularly if you have a responsibility to look after the safety of others, is a must.
  2. Almost every bridge watchkeeper will have experienced the ‘rubber neck’ syndrome when they have been on the verge of falling off to sleep, either through fatigue or boredom. There are many things that can be done to help prevent this from happening, such as standing up, moving around, getting some fresh air and turning down the heating. However, if these don’t work, another watchkeeper should be called either to assist or to take over.
  3. On many short commuter ferry crossings and river trips, many passengers are desperately keen to disembark as soon as possible, and ignore crew advice to remain seated until the vessel is alongside. Not insisting that everyone must remain seated is fine - until something goes wrong. The consequences then can be significant.