If you’re in the business long enough, you are going to have a bad day. Hopefully it’s just a towing “fender-bender,” where nobody gets hurt, there’s no pollution, and it isn’t too expensive. If the incident rises to a certain level, there may be an investigation by company management, the Coast Guard, or in severe cases, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The main value of an investigation is to learn from the bad experience so the same mistakes are not made again. Next time, fate may not be so kind to you. Yes, sometimes investigations are made to fix responsibility and accountability. Again, the master is always responsible and accountable, but in reality others can often be involved with many other factors in play.
When the not-so-good-day happens, you should collect a few things as soon as possible after the incident so the investigation can be as accurate and complete as possible. This can help present your side of the story when you get asked what happened. (Lawyers need not write me with righteous indignation that I’m trying to practice law without a license. Nor should company management blister me because it is expected that every company has its own procedures and policies. I get it. My perspective is simply from hindsight and having done some investigations.)
What you collect and preserve after an incident may go a long way towards showing that you did the right things and you should identify them as soon as possible after the incident while things are still fresh. Of course, your first priority and duty is to immediately respond to the accident, address any injuries, and limit damage to property and the environment. Only then should attention be turned to the administrative side.
Some items to collect include:
- Deck and engineering logs. or any other logs kept during the boat’s operation. Both paper and electronic versions such as the voyage data recorder (VDR) can be helpful
- Watch bills
- Charts, both paper and electronic including corrections, ECDIS/electronic displays, updates, and maybe “screen shots”
- Voyage plans
- Crew/passenger lists
- Checklists such as pre-underway checklists
- Personnel injury/damage reports
- Witness statements
- Communications including emails, texts, subjects of phone calls, and VHF Log Alcohol test results
- Bills of lading
- Repair/maintenance records
- Failed component(s), broken or suspected part(s) involved in the event Anything else you think will be useful later or specific items indicated by management or investigators
Once you have assembled these items it is important to keep them safe and secure This is by no means an all-inclusive list, nor is it in any order of priority. Be aware of required legal documents and any other items your company wants before it is too late. Sail safe!