Yachtsman can learn from ferry crew discipline

An American yacht captain with a history in risk management has called on yachtsmen the world over to learn lessons from the Hudson River aircraft ditching that took place in New York last week.

Captain Tom Serio, from Florida, said that while the pilot of US Air Flight 1549 must be lauded for landing the bird-struck aircraft on the waterway without any serious injuries to passengers or crew, so too should the captains operating the New York Waterway Ferry vessels who were the first to respond to the crash landing and helped to rescue up to 142 of the survivors.

The survival rate of this incident is no accident, Serio told Triton Megayacht News. ‘Experience and continuous training by the ferry captains are to credit [for the successful rescue], and are factors yacht captains, too, must maintain,’ he said.

‘Non-planned events can test the mettle of the best captains. The time to plan for a disaster is not at the time of the disaster. Holding drills with the participation of all crew are essential in turning a potentially disastrous situation into one with positive results. Crew need to take safety training with a serious attitude to ensure the safety of passengers and themselves,’ he said.

Ferry captain Captain Vincent Lombardi, at the helm ofThomas Jeffersonon January 15, was first on scene and helped 56 aircraft passengers standing on the wings, in a life raft and in the water.

Behind him was Captain Brittney Catanzaro, piloting theThomas Kean. ‘At 19, she is the youngest ferry captain but still knew her drills. She and her crew pulled 24 passengers from the wings of the airplane,’ said Serio.

‘We just did what we were trained to do,’ Catanzaro said to reporters after the rescue. ‘We got out there as fast as possible. We got as close as possible to the plane, and we got everyone out quickly.’ She said that the ferry captains quickly deployed from their boats a survivor recovery device (pictured above) to great effect: ‘We used our Jason’s Cradle. It hangs off the bow of the boat and it drops into the water and we have the option of hoisting somebody up or they have the option of climbing,’ she said.

Serio said that training is necessary since a disaster can put a yacht and crew in an environment they are not accustomed to. ‘With the NY Waterway ferries, they had to hold position against the wings to evacuate passengers, as the plane not only slowly sank, but drifted with the current. Uncertain if more people were in the water, they had to make sure they didn’t run over anyone or put the stern too close to people or other vessels. The ferry captains also had to approach the plane slowly initially so their wake would not overturn passengers standing on the wings,’ he said.

‘One thing noticeable on the television coverage was NY Waterway crew tossing numerous life jackets to plane passengers. Do yacht crew know where all the life jackets are stored? Are there additional life jackets in storage? Have they practiced throwing a life ring with a line attached? Know these answers before you need them.

‘This was a cold New York day, with air temperatures about 20 degrees F and frigid water temps. Hypothermia was a real danger to those exposed to the elements. As a yacht captain, are you prepared to press your guests into rescue mode? Are they briefed that they might be asked to help in case of an emergency? Can your crew, who is used to following directions, now give them to others? These points need to be discussed ahead of time.

‘It is not such a crazy idea that yacht captains and crew can be found in the same situation as the ferry crews. This could have happened on a warm summer day when the Hudson River is full of commercial and recreational vessels. Who knows, you may be the first one on scene of an emergency event. The time to plan for that is now,’ he said.