The International Marine Contractors Association has published a safety guidelines for Offshore Vessels when docks in port and harbours.


Ship enter and leave ports regularly. Tying up a ship when alongside a berth or another vessel is potentially a very hazardous operation unless simple and effective safety procedures are followed. Mooring accidents are always on the list of personal injury accidents, often resulting in severe injuries or even fatalities.


These are very simple guidelines marked by common sense, but that it can save of serious accidents and even human lives.


For the mooring safety, the people involved in the operation has to have in mind several factors. We are going to look at these factors, according the Safety Guide of IMCA (IMCA M 214).



Planning the Operation

The key to safe and effective mooring operations is planning and ensuring that appropiate procedures are followed. A mooring operation risk assessment should always be carried out. Suitable controls and procedures should be in place to minimise the risks identified for this operation. The use of tollbox talks to discuss the operation and the hazards involved is an effective way to help reduce accidents. It may seem like an unnecessary task to undertake, as mooring is a routine operation that most crew are very familiar with. However, this is the danger, as familiarity and complacency can lead to a mistake and an accident.


Who is in Charge?

The person in charge or directing the mooring operation at each mooring station on deck should be easily identifiable and heard clearly by the rest of the mooring team. Consideration should be given to issuing the person in charge with a different coloured high visibility vest and/or a different coloured safety helmet. Occasionally the Master issues instructions from the bridge to a dedicated person in charge at each mooring station. The change out of mooring operation personnel, for example, due to shift change, should be avoided until the mooring operation is complete.



Communication between the mooring team is a key part of mooring procedures. VHF, talk back systems, hand signals and verbal communication are normally used. Be aware of any language barriers which can lead to miscommunication and an unintended action that may result in an accident. Always ensure that emergency signals and procedures are understood and well-practiced. Ensure that after an instruction has been given or received it is repeated back to confirm it has been fully understood. Training should be carried out in these procedures.


Personal Protective Equipment

The mooring team should always be wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). This should be verified by the team leader/person in charge. If the incorrect PPE is worn then the person should not be allowed to take part in the mooring operation until correctly attired. Typical PPE consits of the following items: coverall; safey boots; safety helmet; high visibility vest; gloves and buoyancy vest if working near shipside or quayside.


Danger Zones

Be aware of snap back zones and potential pinch points. The use of deck markings can greatly assist in the identification of these zones. Try to use common sense during mooring operations and if you can see a dangeorus situation developing make sure that the stop signal is given. It is better to be safe than to ignore a dangerous situation. Do not forget that your view of the mooring operation may be different to that of others and you may be the only person who sees the development of a dangerous situation. Ensure all crew that carry out mooring operations are trained in the identification and understanding of snap back zones.


Condition of Mooring Lines

Mooring lines should always be examined regularly for damage and records maintained. If in doubt over the condition of a mooring line, ensure that it is inspected by a competent person. When handling mooring lines particular attention should be paid to signs of fraying, any damage and signs of corrosion.



The following are known to have caused personal injury whilst mooring:

  • Oil – slipping on oil from mooring equipment. Ensure that the equipment is well maintained and that working decks are coated with an appropiate anti-slip coating

  • Ice – even though the deck may be coated in an anti-slip coating, a layer of ice may be present that introduces a slip hazard. Ensure when mooring in cold water that the risk assessment includes snow or ice risks.

  • Ship side – be aware of leaning on or over ship side handrails or bulwarks. Personnel have fallen over the ship side during mooring operations.

  • Lighting – inadequate lighting during mooring operations can cause accidents. Ensure that all working areas are adequately iluminated and that no shadows are cast from lighting that may hide potential hazards.

  • Elevated winch gratings – make sure that all gratings and supports are in good condition. Ensure that any steps for access to and from them are also inspected for signs or corrosion/damage.

Environmental Conditions

Poor weather can have a big impact on mooring operation safety as follows:

  • Ice – the formation of ice and snow can cause skin abrasions or cuts and will reduce the mobility of the affected person.

  • Wind, currents and tides – any of these can affect the movement of the ship. Excessive strain can be put on mooring lines and this may cause them to break. Pay particular attention to the snap back zones and vessel movement during mooring operations in these conditions. Gusting wind can also knock a person off balance.

  • Fog – this reduces visibility and may make visual communication difficult with the persons ashore or on another vessel. Ensure that a good communication link is established and tested before mooring in these conditions. The risk assessment should take into consideration poor visibility.

  • Cold wether clothing – if personnel are inadequately dressed this can have a great impact on concentration and mobility, which in turn may lead to an accident. Always ensure that you are appropiately dressed for the weather conditions.

Vessels Assisting

Tugs and small workboats are often used when mooring a vessel. Ensure that good communication between vessels is established and is tested. Remember the possibility of language barriers in these instances. When passing lines from the vessel to the assisting vessel or to the quayside, ensure that the heaving line “monkey´s fist” does not include additional weight. It has been known for steel weights to have been added to these lines to enable them to be thrown further. This practice has been a cause of injury including causing serious head injuries.


Quay Access

Safe access to and from the vessel to the quay or another vessel may be required if personnel are not available to assist in the mooring operation. Means of safe access may include a gangway, pilot ladder to tender boat or a basket transfer. In all cases ensure that the equipment used for personnel transfer is well maintained and has a valid test certificate. Do not jump from the vessel to the quay or other vessel or use any other non-approved method other than the aforementioned and always use a buoyancy aid. Lives have been lost through failures to follow safe access procedures.


Many people who read this paper will remember some form of mooring incident. Whether it be a near miss or an accident, it should serve as a reminder that mooring and casting off a vessel is a potentially hazardous operation that should always be well planned by way of risk assessments and comprehensive procedures. The maintenance of all ship´s equipment is important, but it appears that mooring equipment can sometimes be forgotten about. Look after all your mooring equipment and procedures, it should contribute to a safer operation.


Remember: safety is first.

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