Safety at Sea
“Is that a kayak? “ I asked, glancing at the monitor that displays an image from a camera mounted at the top of the ship. We were a few miles offshore, still in sight of land, and close to the freighters heading towards the ports in the Chesapeake Bay, and sure enough, there was an empty bright yellow kayak drifting near our course.
The ship immediately went into “Man Overboard” status with an engineer keeping a fix on the empty craft. Others started scanning the seas to see if a person was floating nearby, and raising the Coast Guard to alert them of a drifting vessel. My stomach felt hollow as I watched the empty boat and looked for a flash of a life jacket. It was such a relief to hear that no one had been reported missing, and that chances were the kayak had been blown out to sea over the holiday weekend. We waited until the Coast Guard came to recover the kayak before continuing to make our way to our first ROV dive site.
Safety at sea is taken very seriously. At sea, the ship’s crew is everything– our fire department, rescue squad and “911” combined. The science crew assists when asked, but the most important thing we can do is to pay attention so that we do not have any emergencies. During our first meeting aboard we went over some basic safety requirements such as wearing hard hats when there is gear overhead, and harnesses when working near the edge of the ship.
We also learned the three emergency signals that require a response from everyone aboard:
Fire/Emergency: 1 Continuous blast of the alarm for at least 10 seconds – everyone to their emergency muster stations
Abandon Ship: 7 or more short blasts followed by 1 long blast of the alarm – all scientists muster on the O-1 deck at their appointed life raft stations with their immersion suits and life jackets
Man Overboard: 3 prolonged blasts of the alarm – all scientists muster on the fantail deck
Dismissal – 3 short blasts
“Muster” is an unusual term although you hear of people “mustering their courage.” Essentially it means “to assemble or gather” although to “pass muster” means to pass a cursory inspection. We had an abandon ship drill, and when everyone had mustered, the science team had to don immersion suits. It is good to practice in case we should ever need it, plus it is a rare chance to look like “Gumby.”
We have gotten some gear in the water (ROV and CTD) and are planning to deploy a lander next. We will continue to keep a weather eye on hurricane Leslie, and to pay attention to details, in order to stay safe.