Crew resource management (CRM) is a required annual course at many airlines. For the last several years, we completed recurrent CRM training in the month of December. Since we are no longer flying due to the effects of 2020, we will not be attending any airline CRM class this month. Instead, Chris and I are preparing for an offshore sailing passage from Thailand to the Maldives, and held our own impromptu Skylark Sea-R-M session.
Part 1 focused on external resources available at sea with our on board communication systems. It took place at the Air Crew Bar in Patong, over a couple ice cold Leo beers. What an appropriate place for such a conversation. With all of the flight restrictions, I don't think any air crew have visited here in a long time!
Part 2 focused on our float plan, stocking emergency grab bags, and our abandoning ship procedure. In previous years during airline ground schools, we normally spent the emergency procedures portion collaborating with the cabin crew. This year during Sea-R-M, we met with our engineer friend Paul from SV Making Time, whom we will be buddy sailing with to the Maldives. We linked up at a slightly classier venue compared to part one, Kan Eang @ Pier, our favorite seaside restaurant in Chalong. We discussed many ideas, and later implemented them on Skylark. Let’s see how much two pilots and an engineer can overanalyze everything.
Chris and I worked together at two airlines over six years, and have each been in the industry for over 10 years. We completed two simulator checks as sim partners for the B767 and B787, spent nine months in close quarters during a pandemic, and recently attended a delicious cooking class in Chiang Rai specializing in Northern Thai cuisine.
We respect each other enough after our joint experiences, to safely attempt to cross an ocean together. Even though Chris is formally the Skipper, we have mutual goals of safety, fun and maintaining Skylark. We have to deal with many issues that test our cooperation and communication, and are continuously monitoring internal and external situations for threats, while managing communication to the outside world.
Part 1 - Leveraging External Resources through Communication
CRM involves managing available resources that are both on and off the ship. On an aircraft, this includes pilots, cabin crew and passengers. Resources outside the aircraft would include air traffic control, dispatch, maintenance, med link, and more. Being aware of available resources solves problems faster, which is essential during time critical situations. Chris and I are the only ones on Skylark for this next journey, however, we have a multitude of resources at our disposal that increase our safety and efficiency.
Once we cast off from Thailand, we will have no cellular reception or internet access. Our communications include:
Iridium GO! - reception available worldwide. Includes apps optimized for voice calling, SMS, email, weather monitoring, and more.
EPIRB - Reception available worldwide, communicating in the form of a distress signal.
VHF Marine Radio - Generally a range of 25NM.
SSB Marine Radio - On MF up to 400NM and on HF up to thousands of miles
All four of these devices have built in distress buttons, that when pushed will alert various authorities. The Iridium and Epirb will alert our emergency contact as well. Father, please don't have your phone on silent during our journey or screen any unfamiliar numbers!
With these devices, we are able to communicate with many external resources. This includes:
Cruising Buddy - Since we plan to travel to the Maldives alongside our friend Paul, he is our primary resource at sea. We depart Phuket at the same time, and should either of us require emergency assistance, we will be in the vicinity of each other. We will also share weather and traffic information. We will have daily contact with Paul, through an iridium text, or a call on vhf or SSB. Both yachts have a Predictwind membership, allowing the ability to view each other on our Offshore App GPS map's. We will be able to see each others moving map across the ocean to maintain better situational awareness.
Iridium - GEOS -Travel Safety Group & Local SAR - An SOS initiated by pressing the SOS button on the Iridium GO device will only send an emergency message with location information, while an SOS initiated from the Iridium GO application will also provide the option for two-way voice communication with the emergency contact. Pressing the SOS will also alert the folks at GEOS, a Travel Safety Group to provide an emergency response coordination services for us.
EPIRB - Rescues Coordination Centre - We have an EPIRB with a unique code for us, that has all of our boat information and emergency contact data on file. If the EPIRB is activated, it will alert the nearest Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC), by sending a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency, which is monitored by the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system. They will contact our emergency contact who will verify our itinerary. This will allow them to quickly locate us in the event of an emergency.
Other Cruisers - In addition to Paul, we have met other sailors making the journey from Phuket to the Maldives this year. We have been in contact with them discussing weather and check out procedures. It’s also possible we sail along a similar route, which will add additional safety.
Ships - If things go terribly wrong and a rescue is initiated, it’s possible for another sailboat or cargo ship to divert and help yachts in distress. If this happens, Skylark would likely be abandoned at sea, so it would have to be a true emergency.
Doctors - We are fortunate to have Dr. Melanie and Ali Bukhari, two highly accomplished doctors, who happen to be my sister and brother-in-law. They are available to give us advice, incase of any emergencies.
Yacht Agent - When we visit the Maldives, our agent is Asad from RealSeaHawks. He has been a popular agent amongst cruisers for his high level of quality service. He has already provided us with many resources, so we know what to expect at check in when we arrive to the Maldives. When we have a more accurate ETA, we will be able to contact him so that our arrival process goes smoothly.
Other Amel Owners - We are friends with other Amel owners, who can help answer any unexpected maintenance issues may have that we cant find in the manuals. Our friends Ken and Hans have been very helpful with some maintenance advice. If we have any Amel related problems on our route, we can message them to see if they have encountered such an issue or have any ideas.
Previous Yacht Owner - The previous owner of Skylark is super friendly and knowledgeable. We text him from time to time to give him updates on Skylark or with various questions that he graciously responded to. Although it has been a year since we have bought Skylark, he has sailed her all the way from Europe to Malaysia so is a valuable resource.
Family/Friends - You can follow us on our journey via the tracking link.www.outsidewatch.com/location On this map, we will make short updates letting you know what we are up to each day. Our friends and family can also send messages to our iridium device, since we will be missing them out at sea! (P.S Chris’s birthday is on January 5th, if you want to shoot him a message). If our Iridium has some sort of malfunction, it will not update on the map, so if we stop showing up its most likely that!
The Float Plan
Every airline flight is accompanied by a flight plan. Below is a copy of an international flight plan, and you can see it covers all of the essential information such as aircraft type, speed, departure, destination etc. We use a lot of this information for our float plan.
Paul designed a detailed float plan that includes useful information to give to our designated responsible person. The responsible person will be able to keep an eye on our progress, and provide confirmation of our journey and alert search and rescue should we become over due. With Paul’s permission, we used the template he created, and tailored it to our own needs.
Our float plan includes:
***** OBJECTIVE *****
The objective of this Float Plan is to designate and inform a Responsible Person onshore with whom Skylark will maintain communications on passage and who will notify the authorities to organize Search and Rescue in case we are overdue past our arrival date and no communications have been made.
This Float Plan email and its attachments also includes information that will help the Responsible Person support the SAR (Search and Rescue Operation).
The designated Responsible Person is:
Their phone number is:
***** VESSEL INFO ***** Vessel Name:
Vessel Port of Registry:
Other Distinguishing Features:
***** COMMUNICATIONS INFO ***** Iridium Phone number:
Onboard Email number:
SSB Call Sign:
MMSI Registration Number:
Radio Channels Monitored:
***** SAFETY EQUIPMENT ***** Life Raft Description:
Food/Water Rations (days):
Diesel quantity: Other Safety Gear:
***** CREW INFO ***** Skipper (Age/health issue/experience):
Crew (Age/health issue/experience):
***** ITINERARY ***** Departure Date:
Departure Confirmation: Iridium text to Responsible Person to confirm departure time and check comms
Trip specific Hazard Identification:
Destination Check-in Plans: Iridium text to Responsible Person
Agent phone number:
***** ACTIONS FOR RESPONSIBLE PERSON *****
What we will do on Skylark in an emergency:
In a distress situation involving grave and imminent danger, Skylark will attempt to:
a. Send a Mayday message via VHF (both DSC and vocal) and SSB (both DSC and vocal) to alert nearby boats and trigger local rescue,
b. Activate Iridium GO SOS function,
c. Initiate the EPIRB beacon transmission.
GEOS will be notified if the Iridium GO SOS function is activated.
GEOS are contracted to coordinate emergency response and Skylark has a SAR policy with GEOS.
If you lose communications with Skylark via the Iridium, its possible the device is broken or there is a charging issue. Do not worry unless we are overdue.
If we send you an emergency message OR are not at our destination by the proposed date with no communication:
a) Check with Paul, to check whether he has communications by radio with us.
b) Contact our agent in the Maldives to see whether he has heard from us.
c) Contact the US coast guard and advise them of the situation and refer to details in this document. Our registration is Malaysian but we are two Americans.
**** OTHER INFORMATION ****
Attached, you will find our separate information pack which includes data on the yacht and its safety systems that may assist persons who mount a SAR for us. This information includes:
A general arrangement drawing of the yacht
A recent photo of the yacht
On board an aircraft, emergency ditch bag contents are dictated by law. Now that we are preparing our own ship grab bags, we can tailor it to whatever we deem appropriate. We followed the recommended items based on the RYA Sea Survival handbook, however, I added some other items I would find important in such a dire situation. I decided to take charge of this task, to ensure I could include items that I knew Chris wouldn't bother to pack. Hair conditioner and hair treatment never would have made the cut. I set everything out nicely on the passageway berth and table, so he could see exactly what is in our grab bags, and you can see too.
We will have three grab bags plus bring as much water as possible.
1. Essential grab bag
2. Luxury grab bag
3. Document grab bag
4. 6L jug of water minimum
All of the bags are important, however, the essential grab bag is the most important since the epirb resides in there. The document grab bag is also important since it will include our Iridium and the iPad with waterproof case to link to the iridium to communicate via text message. We will aim to keep all essential electronics fully charged incase we have to abandon ship. If we can arrange a speedy pick up, we will not require many of the other items. The items listed below in each grab bag are in no particular order.
Essential Grab bag - The most important
Location: In the cockpit next to helm
Epirb - To transmit our emergency location to the authorities.
Flares - To be located at night.
Portable water maker - To produce freshwater from sea water.
Fishing line - To catch fish if at sea for a while.
Knife - To cut lines, and possibly make sashimi with the fish caught from the line.
Headlamp - To see at night.
Waterproof matches - To start a fire if we wash up on shore.
Air horn - To alert boats that are nearby to rescue us
Signaling mirror - To signal other boats.
Compass - We can see which way we are drifting, and which currency to get ready
glow sticks - To make us more visible at night and alert traffic.
First aid kit - To attend to any wounds. We have extra burn care, since we would likely be ditching in the event of an uncontrollable fire and we may be burned.
Tube of Berocca - There are many vitamins and minerals in here, to ensure a strong immune system and no scurvy. This magic effervescent tablet that usually helps with hangovers will keep us healthy.
Sunglasses - There is nothing worse than being outside on a sunny day without sunglasses…well, perhaps being in a life raft without sunglasses.
RYA survival at sea handbook - This book has a lot of good information for surviving at sea, and recommended to have in the grab bag! We can be cramming additional survival information from the guidebook once we are in the situation.
Luxury Grab Bag - To make our life easier
Location: On top of secondary freezer
3 bags of fancy mixed nuts - Back in fourth grade, I listed macadamia nuts as an important item for survival when we did a list saying what we would want on a desert island. This is since I learned they were high in calories and figured it would be a useful snack. I need to honor my former 4th grade mindset and put some in there.
Canned tuna - If we continue to not catch any fish, which has been the situation all year, we can eat fish from a can.
Laab mix - A can of tuna with Thai laab mix is super delicious. We do this even when we are not in a life raft.
Goji berries - I just looked it up, and they protects the eyes, provides immune system support ...protects against cancer....promotes healthy skin...stabilizes blood sugar. ...improves depression, anxiety, and sleep....prevents liver damage...Wow, I should be having these more often!
Turmeric - Also many health benefits associated with turmeric. We might stain the life raft if we spill it though...although life rafts are a single use item, so its okay.
Green tea - It can be mixed with cold water for a caffeine burst, and is an antioxidant.
Wasabi - If we catch a fresh fish, we will have sashimi…We will avoid soy sauce since it might dehydrate us, and we only have a 1L bottle on board currently. Not a great use of space in the bag.
Cutting board - To prepare the sashimi or use as a plate.
Sun hats - Extra sun protection if we want to get out from under the life raft bimini.
Baby wipes - Dual use as toilet paper, and to wipe our bodies clean. And maybe to attempt to wipe any turmeric off the raft, even though we shouldn't bother.
Shampoo/conditioner/Body wash/razor/hair treatment/Toothbrush - If it takes us a while at sea, we want to stay clean incase we are rescued by a nice yacht. We don't want to be picked up looking like riff raff in our raft.
Deck of cards - For a bit of entertainment while we wait. Hopefully we don’t get toooo good at any one game...
Sunscreen for body - To keep our body free of sun burns.
Thann SPF50+ very waterproof facial sunscreen - My favorite sunscreen. It is very waterproof, and has the most beautiful consistency. If we are going to live past the ditching, we don’t want to get premature wrinkle.
Bikini and swim trunks - I packed a bikini thats a little too small, since if we don’t get rescued for a little while, and we run out of food, then I will fit nicely into it. We hope to be rescued quickly, but it’s important to always find a silver lining.
Beach towel - To dry off, after a quick dip, or to shield ourselves from the sun.
Duct tape - To make repairs to the life raft or bikini if it breaks. Many uses!
Sponges - To bail the life raft and collect rain water to drink.
Snorkel mask - To have better visibility when swimming. Maybe we will see some fish or something interesting at sea.
Document Grab Bag - Our essential documents & Charging Electronics
Location: On Nav Station
Iridium Go - To help coordinate our rescue mission. Our best bet is Paul since he is likely to be the closest and care about us the most. Through the Offshore App, he can see where we are on the GPS map, and come get us. Given the circumstances, we might even be a bit cheeky and ask him to throw a bottle of bubbly in the freezer so it's cold when he gets to us.
Passports - We don’t want to go through the trauma of a life raft life, and then have to visit the nearest US embassy in Sri Lanka to get a new passport and whatever other hassle is associated with it. Getting a new passport is hard enough during normal times, so I expect during Covid and after ditching the yacht it is probable extra difficult. No Thanks!
Credit card and Cash - The phone cable shows our route. From former travels, fortunately we have Sri Lankan, Maldivian, Thai, Myanmar, Malaysian, Indonesian, Singaporean and Australian and USD currencies on board incase we end up in any of those destinations. We used up the last of our Indian currency at an airport restaurant in Mumbai a year ago, so I put a credit and debit card on India. We might only have enough in some currencies to buy a bottle of water.
Fully Charged External battery in Zip Lock Bag - Our mobile phones and Iridium will thank us.
Spare fully charged Go Pro - Incase we end up in the raft, we will at least be able to document it.
Mobile Phone Charger - We need to keep our mobile phones charged to connect to the iridium.
Masks - It 2020. I don't want to arrive on shore and not be allowed into a 711.
Portable VHF radio's - To contact other boats within VHF range.
Abandon Ship procedure
We will only abandon the ship if absolutely necessary. We have always heard you should step upwards into your life raft when abandoning your yacht, meaning do not leave unless absolutely critical. Unless there is a fire, generally you are better off staying on your boat if it is floating still, since you are more visible and have more resources on board. We would only consider abandoning ship if our boat is completely below the water or there is an uncontrollable fire.
On an Amel, it is unlikely for the boat to sink, since watertight bulkheads are part of the design. We could flood an entire compartment and still float.
If we must abandon, we would try to accomplish as many of these steps as possible.
Step 1: Don our life jackets
Step 2: Chris - Send a Mayday message via VHF (both DSC and vocal) and SSB (both DSC and vocal) to alert nearby boats and trigger local rescue.
- Push SOS switch on Iridium device.
- Take document grab bag.
Step 3: Jennifer -Activate the EPIRB in the primary grab bag.
- If possible, send Paul an emergency message from the Iridium go (Text SOS and FIRE/MED/SINK)
-Bring luxury grab bag into cockpit and 6L jug of water
Step 4: Whoever finishes their task first, prepare life raft, securely attaching the line onto the railing.
Step 5: Once it is finally decided abandoning ship is definite, launch life raft and enter.
Step 6: Cut away life raft
Step 7: Continue to make VHF calls from handheld radio, and send messages over the iridium.
Step 8: Once in contact with other boats, make self visible with flares or other visual cues
Step 9 : Once rescued, celebrate with lots of booze.
This concludes our fist annual Sea-R-M course! Follow our passage for updates!