The incident

The crew from a fishing vessel that was moored alongside were ashore socialising and drinking in a bar close to the harbour. The weather during the day had been poor, however conditions were better later but left wet conditions.


After one and a half hours in the bar, three of the crew returned to the vessel, leaving one crewman still drinking in the bar. Shortly before closing time the final member of the crew began returning to the vessel. He was recorded on CCTV and seen to be walking unsteadily.

The fishing vessel was moored outboard of another boat and was accessed by first climbing over the quayside safety rails before crossing the deck of the inboard boat and climbing over the guardrails of the two fishing vessels. Because of the swell in the harbour, the gap between the the two vessels were varying considerably.

One of the crew had remained in the vessel’s wheelhouse talking on his phone and was waiting the return of his colleague. He saw the final member of the crew cross from the quayside, but lost sight of him as he reached the rail near his vessel. CCTV footage showed the crewman on the deck of the inboard vessel. After this, the crewman in the wheelhouse heard a noise and went out on deck to investigate, when he realised that his crewmate had fallen between the two vessels. He called the rest of the crew, collected a torch, and started to search for his colleague.

After a few minutes of searching, the crew found the missing man and secured him using a lightweight boathook with a large hoop specifically designed for manoverboard recovery. He was recovered to the deck of the inboard fishing vessel where CPR was performed, and one of the crew phoned the Fishermen’s Mission to report the accident.

CPR was paused as the casualty was carried to the mission, where it was continued following the arrival of local lifeboat crew and coastguard rescue team members. After a 999 call from the Fishermen’s Mission superintendent, an ambulance arrived and medical care was passed to the emergency services.

Nevertheless, despite the efforts of his rescuers, the crewman died in hospital several days after the accident.

Lessons learned

After the accident, UK MAIB released the following as lessons learned:

  • A documented risk assessment for boarding and leaving the vessel had been carried out. It listed five dangerous areas/ activities including ‘crossing other boats’ and ‘quayside’. It went on to identify a hazard of slippery surfaces and falling into the water leading to hypothermia or drowning. As mitigation it listed the wearing of PFDs and hard hats, which reduced the risk level to low. The risk assessment focused on the working environment and did not recognise the additional hazards associated with crew living on board. Crew living on board in port places additional safety and social responsibilities on vessel owners, and a consequent need to address all additional risks associated with such occupation, including access to and from the boat for recreational purposes;
  • There were no boarding gates or removable sections of guardrail on either of the vessels. This meant that although only a short step was required to pass between the boats, particularly around amidships where the decks of the two boats were level, access still required climbing over the guardrails of both boats. Balancing on a vessel’s coaming or fish plate to climb over guardrails is inherently hazardous, and the risk of a slip or fall is increased at night, in wet and slippery conditions, and when the vessel is moving, whether or not the individual has consumed alcohol;
  • The crewman had used the same method for boarding the vessel many times previously. However, on this occasion the combination of adverse environmental conditions and the level of alcohol in his system is likely to have adversely affected his risk perception, reaction time and coordination, which caused him to fall.