Line snapback and lost limbs

Snap, crackle, pop — and we’re not talking Rice Krispies here. We’re talking about the chance of losing a limb, or worse, in a line handling accident called a line snapback.

Line snapback is the deadly “rubber band” effect — the snapback of a parted line can sweep the deck with you standing on it is less than a second and with almost supersonic speed. The consequences can be gruesome and destroy your life if you lose limbs, end up in a wheelchair, or worse.

I’m blogging about this because there was a recent bad accident on a ship called the Zarga. The UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) took a look at the incident

The Zarga was mooring alongside a pier, with an officer up forward supervising the mooring party. It appears that the ship surged out of position when the tugs were let go. The master ordered the officer to heave around and tension the spring line to get the ship lined up properly. The officer and others in the mooring party were on deck and not wary of the potential danger from line snapback. When heaving around on the line the ship’s winch was under so much strain it was screaming in pain. That should have been an indicator. The line parted like a shot, snapped back, and hit the officer in the head. He was critically injured and rushed to a hospital. It was a miracle he wasn’t killed instantly. I hope he is OK.

This type of accident is not new. In one video, a disabled Navy officer recalls a line snapback accident that resulted in the amputation of both of his legs. One leg went over the side and the other one flew across the deck. I recall meeting him once at a training school and he showed us the suitcase that carried his prosthetics legs. The video is good training, but it is graphic in nature and may not be suitable for all ages.

(Here are two other short videos that offer quick refresher training. The first shows you where snapback zones can be, and the second discusses line handling safety with some good tips.)

Here are a few important safety tips to keep your limbs intact when handling lines:

• Identify the hazards in the safety brief so everyone understands the evolution.

• Understand how lines behave under load such as the stretching of nylon line. Don’t forget wires.

• Make sure lines and wire ropes are good and in serviceable condition. If it looks bad, don’t trust it.

• Use and rig the right lines for their intended purposes. • Ensure good communications with standard commands that are used at all times.

• Always be aware of where you and your shipmates are standing in relation to the snapback zone.

Sail safe!

About the author

Capt. Peter Squicciarini

Capt. Peter Squicciarini is a licensed master mariner and marine safety specialist at the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command in Portsmouth, Va. He has worked on towing, passenger, and fishing vessels, and was a safety and compliance manager for an East Coast tug and barge company. He also served in the Navy as a surface ship officer and commanded several warships. He can be reached at pdsquicciarini@msn.com.

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