We’ve all heard this before: “Don’t stand in a bight,” which is a slack part or loop in a rope or line.

If you get tangled up in your lines you are asking for trouble. An entanglement accident can kill you.

What is an entanglement? It is when your body gets snatched up by hazards such as running lines, wires, moving, rotating or reciprocating machinery, belts, gears, hydraulic rams, coupling, arms, linkages, windlasses, winches, blocks, or booms or sheaves. All workboats have their share of these dangers, but all of these moving killers exist on towboats. The typical workboat can hide the “entanglement snake” just about anywhere and at any time. If you don’t pay attention you can be pulled through a chock or block, overboard, or into running machinery. If this occurs you are almost assured of serious injury or death.

Here are some recent entanglement accidents. While bending over rotating machinery, a crewmember’s hair and loose clothing got wrapped around the spinning shaft. She was severely injured and her body will never be the same again. In another accident a crewmember got caught and crushed by a running wire when he became trapped between the gunwale and the taught wire. He was killed. In another gruesome accident a deckhand was entangled and pulled by the towline into the winch on a tug that was working barges in New York. The deckhand was killed. Each entanglement was a serious accident. The body rarely wins when it challenges the power of a line, wire, or spinning shaft.

You can avoid entanglement injuries or death by observing a few safety precautions.

  • Remain vigilant in observing your surroundings and maintain sharp situational awareness.
  • Don’t be distracted.
  • Don’t wear loose clothing, jewelry or personal items that can get entangled. Avoid long hair.
  • Keep machinery guards on all rotating equipment. Tugs are notorious for lack of machinery guards.
  • Wear your PPE.
  • Know proper procedures and observe all applicable safety management guidance.
  • Post procedures, caution, or warning signs at the hazard.
  • Use tag-out procedures.
  • Develop safeguards to understand and minimize the risk of entanglement.
  • Conduct frequent safety training.
  • Watch out for your shipmate. Many entanglements occur to inexperienced mariners with less than two years experience on the deck or in engineering spaces.

The Coast Guard has recently issued Safety Alerts to guard against these accidents, “Entanglement Accidents” Alert 11-13. The tragedy of entanglement can be avoided. Don’t be the next victim of the entanglement snake.

Sail safe!


A collection of stories from guest authors.