Friday, August 28, 2009

Fast Rescue Boats

Last week I had to take a break from all the fun I was having up in New England to attend another professional training course. Normally these classes take one or two weeks, include a lot of power point and sometimes a little bridge simulator action. I've now taken months and months of required courses to upgrade my license and keep my certificates current. Gone are the days of a single radar re-certification course once every five years (Way before my time).

Thanks to the International Maritime Organization homogenization of seafarers a Merchant Mariner now attends mandatory weeks of training courses during their off time. If your in a seafaring union as I am than you are rarely reimbursed for being there. At least the cost of this burdensome ongoing education is covered by the union's benefits plan. This last course though was a pleasant departure from the normal week long session of classroom instruction and desktop exercises; the formula normally used to complete pages and pages of "Competencies" needed to prove the student meets the international standard for another course certificate.

Unlike the license upgrade courses I completed two years ago the Proficiency in Fast Rescue Boat course is not yet required as an endorsement on a mariner's STCW certificate. Instead it is normally mandated by shipping companies that have fast rescue boats installed on their vessels which includes all passenger ships. I was taking it in preparation for each one of the vessels in my company installing a fast rescue boat.

The course took place in hot and sunny Fort Lauderdale over four days, half of which were spent in the water on two eight meter RHIBs (Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat). One fast boat was propelled by twin 175 horse power outboard engines, the other by a 375 horsepower Cummings diesel jet drive. Both of these boats could get up and go in a moment's notice and required white knuckle grips when turning at high speed.

Fast rescue boats are characterized by having powerful propulsion, self righting capabilities, and a high degree of maneuverability. They are normally constructed of fiberglass or aluminum for weight savings and rimmed by an air and foam filled sponson to provide buoyancy.The hull form is known as a deep V which allows the boat to rise from the displacement mode at slow speeds to a planing mode just like any speed boat. Both of the boats we used represented the larger size of fast rescue boats, the longest allowed being 8.5 meters. The rescue boats I have used are usually 4-6 meters in length.

The rescue boat provides two primary uses on board a ship. The first is to retrieve persons from the water whether they fell from your own vessel or you are taking part in a rescue operation. Secondly the boat can be used to gather and assist less maneuverable life boats or life rafts. Either or these missions require a trained crew and a prepared boat to be safely lowered and recovered from the water in heavy weather day or night.

During the course we practiced recovering persons from the water, transferring perons from boat to boat while making way, high speed maneuvers, towing, righting capsized rescue craft and conducting search patterns. Most of the training took place in the open ocean during daylight, with warm water and 1-2 foot seas; ideal conditions for any rescue boat operation.

Of course as this past weekend proved when the swell from Hurricane Bill took the life of a 7 year old girl in Acadia National Park rescue missions normally do not take place in benign conditions. Even the Coast Guard with a 47 foot motor life boat, a helicopter and a fixed wing aircraft took three hours to recover the girl in the 12-15 foot seas near Thunder Hole.

With all luck I'll never need to use a fast boat for anything more than touching up the draft marks.

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