11 Points For Ensuring Safe Helicopter Operations On Ships

Helicopter Operations on Ships: Helicopter operations are frequently utilized on ships for crew rotations, Pilot transfers, emergencies, and rescue missions. These operations are recognized as complex and high-risk, given the involvement of personnel, equipment, and aircraft other than those belonging to the vessel. Therefore, precision, training, and well-defined procedures are essential. The officers and crew members involved in these operations must demonstrate a heightened level of situational awareness and strong seamanship skills.

Crucial Factors for Ensuring Safe Helicopter Operations Onboard Ships

 1. Procedures

The operators, ship owners, and other maritime management stakeholders must create (or include) protocols for helicopter ship operations in their Managing Systems. This implies that all vessels must to be able to comply with the ICS Guide’s criteria on helicopter operations. Step-by-step instructions, checklists, reports, standard communication expressions, and any other helpful material about helicopter operations can all be included in procedures.

2. Safety measures

No helicopter activities must be allowed over the tank deck until all other operations have been halted and all cargo tank apertures sealed. It would be required to create a space fit for use as an emergency winching area on a vessel without a designated winching place. The area ought to have as little turbulence, flue gas exposure, accessibility, lack of accommodation spaces, and a clear flight path along the ship’s side that is illuminable by floodlights pointed downward. It should also be free of obstructions like masts and have all moving parts secured.

3. Tools

According to SOLAS chapter II, oceangoing vessels must carry additional firefighting equipment specifically designed for helicopter operations in addition to operational or lifesaving gear. Crew members should never skimp on wearing the appropriate PPE or avoiding the operation area. To ensure safe operations, landing or winching zones must be appropriately established and maintained.

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4. Interaction

Establishing a reliable communication channel between the helicopter and the vessel’s bridge staff is crucial for the successful execution of these tasks. The pilot of the helicopter should receive all accessible information, and vice versa. The most crucial information to relay to the helicopter pilot is the course and speed the ship must maintain during the operation, the planned landing or winching area, the intended place of operation, the estimated time of arrival at that position, and the current weather conditions.

5. Weather Prediction/Statements

The weather is very important to these operations. The ship should examine the weather prediction, paying particular attention to the wind direction and speed, visibility, sky conditions, rain, fog, drizzle, and snow conditions, as well as the sea state. The Helicopter Providing Service Company and/or the Helicopter itself should receive all pertinent information.

6. Instruction and Orientation

Helicopter operations training should be provided to a sufficient number of crew members. The Muster list should explicitly state roles and responsibilities, and exercises should be conducted using the necessary equipment at the proper intervals. The foundation for any training or preparation for ship/helicopter operations should be a safety check-list. Given the numerous instances in which such rescues and evacuations have occurred, another aspect of training for the crew is the evacuation of the vessel with the aid of a helicopter.

Members of the ship’s crew who operate helicopters in conjunction with other ships should get training that complies with the standards and guidelines required to ensure the safety of the crew, the ship, and the helicopter pilots. It is necessary to make sure that the Deck Party Officer and the Deck Party Crew are trained and routinely drilled in the tasks needed of them in both routine operations and emergencies, and that they are completely conversant with the equipment for winching and landing operations.

7. Emergency preparation

Seafarers should be taught in the use of the contingency plan, which should be designed to reduce the impact of a helicopter crashing into the ship or into the neighboring sea. A good contingency plan should take into account a number of important aspects, such as the availability of a fire department, rescue squad, and tools for recovering from flooding. The ship’s crew must be ready to land and/or hoist cargo quickly and safely; as a result, a helicopter is more susceptible to many dangerous situations.

The less time that is spent approaching, hovering, and landing to execute the operation safely, the greater the likelihood that it will be done so without incident and that neither the helicopter nor the vessel will be harmed.

8. Continue to Monitor the Ship’s Course and Speed

As soon as the OOW is informed of the ship’s necessary course and speed to maintain, he must:

  • Maintain the advised Course and Speed
  • Ascertain the situation and traffic density
  • Ensure enough sea room is available and is clear off obstructions
  • Ensure the readiness of the Deck party.
  • In case of change of watch, delay handing over the watch until the operation is terminated.

9. Carefully prepare the landing and winching area

The area on board designated specifically for a helicopter landing is called the landing area. It will change depending on the ship. Helicopter landings occur less frequently and are mostly performed on bulk carriers and specifically constructed ships.

The act of winching involves using the sling that is fastened to the helicopter’s winch to lift or lower a person. Pilot embarkations and crew changes are the main uses for this more frequent operation. Shipboard winching areas are not uniform. The forecastle deck, main deck, hatch coverings, and bridge wings are the regions that are most frequently winched.

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As soon as possible after the first communication with the helicopter team, the recommended landing and winching places should be ready for use.

10. Keep an inventory of the supplies needed for helicopter operations on hand

An inventory of items used for helicopter operations should be carried by any vessel authorized to permit helicopter operations, and it should be kept up to date. Throughout on-scene activities, these supplies must to be available and ready to go at all times.

This inventory consists of, but is not restricted to:

  • Crow Bar
  • Large Axe
  • Wire Cutters
  • Hand Signals
  • Emergency Signal Torch
  • Wind Stock
  • Marshalling Batons
  • First Aid Equipment

The officers and crew members involved in the operations must to be knowledgeable about the tools and how to operate them.

11. Positions and Accountabilities

The ship’s safety is ultimately the responsibility of the ship’s master. Before operations begin, he should consult with his shipping firm if he has any concerns about whether the proposed helicopter service satisfies its safety, liability, indemnification, and insurance requirements. For the sake of ship safety, he may halt or limit the operation at any time. In this case, the helicopter needs to get away from the ship right away.

  • The person in charge of the deck party during helicopter operations is known as the Deck Party Officer (DPO). He is responsible for making sure that the deck party crew is thoroughly briefed and trained to support operations, that firefighting, life-saving, and other associated equipment is ready for use during operations, and that appropriate communication has been established with the bridge as needed.
  • Trained crew members are assigned specific roles for the operation as part of the Deck Party Crew (DPC). They must support DPO. When needed, assist the chopper’s occupants while preparing and using life-saving, firefighting, and other relevant equipment.
  • Officer of the Watch (OOW): During the operation, the OOW is in charge of the weather prediction and monitoring, navigation safety, and appropriate radio contact with the helicopter and/or the helicopter service provider. The OOW is also under the master’s supervision.

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