Problem-free mooring: the dock master’s checklist



Walter Vervloesem FNI, Chairman, IMCS Group of Companies, & Chairman of the Nautical Institute (Belgium)


 The issue of safe mooring can be approached from a number of different angles, such as:

  • The port – accidents & consequences, facilities, PSC, etc.
  • Ship – equipment, maintenance, operation, planning
  • Company – providing resources, training, compliance with industry requirements
  • Crew – safety, on-board training, maintenance, resting hours
  • Insurance – accidents, claims, investigations, the way forward, loss prevention, etc.
  • Training – best way to raise awareness and training methods, supervision, etc.
  • Mooring equipment manufacturers – user friendliness, suitability, tailor-made to needs of ship and crew, rules and requirements, etc.
  • Flagstate – inspections, requirements (Minimum Safe Manning Certificate) etc.

For this article, I decided to look at mooring issues from the port’s point of view. Before making my point as to why I decided to do so, let us first look to the chief reasons for bad practice and accidents.

Any accident or problem situation is the result from an unfortunate mix of different parameters at a given time. Also mooring accidents are the result of a combination of failure mechanisms such as abrasion damage in combination with improper mooring line leads, shockloads, and so on. If one of the failure mechanisms necessary to create a mooring accident is missing, a worn mooring rope may still safely hold a laden ship alongside under clement weather conditions, but will fail with catastrophic consequences, for example when a slight breeze impacts on the bigger windage area that developed during the discharge operations (or during loading of containers on deck). Moreover, mooring operations disrupt the normal shipboard operations as they are frequently carried out during nighttime or outside the crew’s normal working hours and with limited crews on board. With uncomfortable weather conditions and time pressure, all these factors increase the accident potential of mooring operations. Especially when the conditions on the mooring stations are difficult, the mooring crew/squads should be aware that a small omission or error can have serious consequences.

The writing of the mooring book took roughly about five years and during this period, especially during surveys on board, I took the opportunity to investigate more into the reason why crews arrange and belay the lines wrongly, leave ropes on drum ends, fail to observe lead angles, and so on. In many cases I found out that they were not aware of the risks involved as a result from their actions and did not know why certain mooring arrangements constituted bad practice. Frequent answers were that “it is always done like that”, “there was no time to do otherwise” etc. Many of the answers received in combination with the poor arrangements, bad practice and maintenance reflect lack of awareness, improper training, insufficient experience and understanding of mooring operations, loads, arrangements and techniques.

The above makes it clear that the different parameters that may have an effect on mooring safety should be identified and that awareness needs to be raised. As lack of awareness is definitely one of the major contributing factors in improper and unsafe mooring operations, raising awareness seems to be the logical answer to this problem. However, who is in a position to raise awareness?


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