Is your hull painted red? Report after yacht capsize

Rambler 100 rescue
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The modern cruising yacht is about as unlikely to capsize through the loss of its keel as it is to hit a whale. This doesn't mean it's impossible if the keel is bolted on, and last month's findings (meant primarily for racing) by Ireland's MCIB(Marine Casualty Investigation Board) about the the capsize and rescue of the Fastnet Yacht Rambler 100 will be of interest to all.

The yacht capsized when its keel failed in August last year, and it happened in Irish waters, triggering an Irish investigation.

One of the more interesting conclusions of the report was that the upturned vessel would have been visible from a much greater distance by rescue crews had the hull been painted with a bright colour. This, of course, is a no-brainer. There's nothing to be lost by painting the hull of one's yacht red.

The report also advised yachtsmen to look out for signs of keel failure on one-off design yachts, many of which in previous cases were found to be caused by weld fractures.

The incident:
The Rambler 100 capsized shortly after rounding Fastnet Rock during the 2011 edition of the Fastnet Race on 15 August last year.

Sixteen of the 21-strong crew managed to climb onto the upturned hull, while the other five were later picked up from the water after drifting away from the vessel. Photos of the rescue of the yacht's crew are available HERE.

The report:
The MCIB's account of the incident reads like a Faulty Towers script. The report found that the 100-foot racing yacht capsized very quickly once the keel had fractured, surprising the crew and leaving them no time to react other than to get to safety.

Because of this, a number of opportunities that may have hastened their rescue were missed, the report outlines.

Firstly, a 'Mayday' broadcast via the yacht's installed VHF received no response, possibly because the mast was quickly underwater. The navigator's handheld VHF radio was also lost while he was swimming out of the capsizing vessel.

It was noted that two grab bags containing EPIRBs were stored under the navigator's seats port and starboard which proved inaccessible once the boat was capsizing. The report concludes that had such equipment been located within reach of the companion way or by the helm, it would have proved easier for one of the crew to grab before leaving.

Two liferafts stored in containers on the aft deck were also inaccessible with the hull inverted. An alternate method of releasing them from their storage box would have made it possible to launch at least one of the rafts, the report asserted.

It was found that the leverage of the water ballast tanks contributed to the rapid inversion of the vessel once the boat lay on her side in the water. This left no time for the off-watch crew below deck at the time of the incident to reach either foul weather gear or personal flotation devices (PFDs).

The report also recommended that an escape hatch would have aided the off-watch crew's escape from the upturned hull, though thankfully they were able to remove themselves from below deck without becoming tangled in loose ropes or other equipment.

Although each crew member was issued with a safety pack containing a PLB and strobe light, only two were available to those on the upturned hull, and none to the five who drifted away. The report states that it 'would have greatly aided the rescue services had each of the survivors carried their own PLB and activated it on entering the water'.

Moreover, it was found that incomplete registration information for the two PLBs that were activated caused some confusion as to the identity of the vessel in distress, and led to a delay of around an hour before a full-scale search ad rescue operation was launched.

The report did not investigate the reason for the keel failure, only the fact that it caused the capsize, and that further analysis on the keel is being carried out by the appropriate authorities.

The MCIB also outlines a list of safety recommendations based on its conclusions which have been made primarily to the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) for inclusion in its special regulations for future offshore racing events. Here they are:

Safety recommendations from the MCIB:

It should be noted that the following recommendations are being made primarily to the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) for inclusion in their Offshore Special Regulations (OSR) for future offshore yacht racing events. Cruising yacht owners may like to consider what is of interest or relevant to them.

1. Modify ISAF OSR Appendix K (Moveable and Variable Ballast) to include a requirement for emergency escape from an inverted hull and access to a liferaft and grab bag from an inverted position. Add a requirement to be able to deploy a Horseshoe lifebelt or Lifesling from an inverted position.

2. Modify ISAF OSR 4.20.3v (Liferaft stowage on a multihull shall be such that each liferaft may be readily removed and launched whether or not the yacht is inverted) to include monohull yachts in OSR category 0 races and for monohull yachts with canting keels in OSR Category 1 and 2 races.

3. It is recommended that a grab bag containing at least a handheld VHF and EPIRB be located in such a position when boats are inverted so that they can be readily accessed by crew in the cockpit.

4. It is recommended that ISAF OSR 3.29.1v be modified to include category Mo1,2 and that DSC be used in the event of a MAYDAY broadcast.

5. It is recommended that ISAF OSR 4.19 be modified to state that the ship’s EPIRB be mounted in a float free bracket located such that it will deploy automatically in the event of a capsize and in such a position that it is accessible to the crew from the water aft of the boat with the boat in any position.

6. It is recommended that all crew carry their safety pack with them at all times and that all PLB’s be registered to the individual user and that the vessel’s name, call sign and satellite phone number be included on the registration (ISAF OSR 5.01 k). It is further recommended that all PLB’s be entered on crew lists with the race organisers prior to commencement of the race (ISAF OSR 4.19e). OSRs currently state that PLBs should be properly registered with the appropriate authority.

7. Modify ISAF OSR 4.02.3 to include category Mo1,2 and make it a requirement that a section of hull and underwater appendages show an area of highly visible colour.

8. It is recommended that the flag State authorities should instigate an investigation as to why the keel failed and disseminate any recommendations/technical guidance following this investigation.

9. It is recommended that yachts racing under category Mo1 be required to carry their AIS antenna at mast head to facilitate stronger AIS signals.

10. It is recommended that the ISAF in conjunction with the RORC and the major yacht racing national authorities develop regulations concerning the standard of welded keel fins.