One of the important skills of those who fly in aircraft over water is training to escape from the aircraft should it land in water and capsize. This type of training may be of value to ship pilots when they consider that three pilot boats capsized in 2006 alone, requiring underwater egress.
I recently attended the underwater egress course of Survival Systems USA, in Groton, Conn., as part of our continuing education program for the Columbia River Bar Pilots and it was quite an eye opener. While the course is basically engineered for egress from aircraft, we were able to simulate egress from pilot boat that gave me some ideas on surviving should a pilot boat capsize.
The two day course is divided into classroom and pool work, using a full sized simulator that is lowered into the water and then totally inverted. Two scuba divers are in the water outside the simulator and two instructors are inside with the students. There are a number of different types of doors and windows that must be opened prior to escape, and the entire area can be blacked out so that night escapes are practiced. The second day is devoted to escape using an alternate air source. This option really shows just how much better the chance of survival in a capsized vessel is with alternate air. There are also exercises with life rafts, inflatable lifejackets, fire in the aircraft and various types of survival suits. The course was to the point with no wasted time. I noticed on the way home that I really paid attention to the flight attendant lecture on exits and lifejackets.
In an earlier post, I wrote about the need for flying bridges on pilot boats so that the boarding process could be handled more safely. The increasing tendency of pilot boats to be totally enclosed, with fewer exit doors, and more sound deadening, will make them harder to escape should the boat capsize. The need to restrain the crew in seatbelts, and to learn the best way to find an exit in the dark before the boat goes down is really something that needs to be addressed. The addition of alternate air sources to give that extra time needed for egress is really shown to be of value in these courses. The recent trend of ship pilots towards water activated float coats has to be examined, if the coat inflates while the pilot is still inside of the capsized boat, escape is nearly impossible.
The increased use of helicopters in heavy weather by the oil industry has fueled the need for these aircraft escape courses. The losses of pilot boats have shown that this type of training is certainly a valuable tool for ship pilots and crew who face a similar problem.