Customised Coastguard safety systems future-proof

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 40, June 2012

Each year, Coastguard regions carry out an internal audit of each unit to review the overall capability. In 2009 it became apparent that the units needed support in understanding Safe Ship Management (SSM).*
Lyttelton Coastguard Canterbury
Maritime New Zealand ©2022
The Lyttelton-based Coastguard Canterbury crew.

Mark Whitehouse, Operations Manager, Coastguard Southern Region, was also mindful of proposals to move from SSM to a new safety system – MOSS (Maritime Operator Safety System). Ideally he wanted a process that was simple to use, transferrable and understood by all.

To take the project forward, Mark sought support from Darren Guard, MNZ Industry Liaison Advisor for the South Island. Together they worked to get an understanding of SSM as it applied to the Coastguard operation, and how it would evolve in the future to MOSS. The project focused on safety and ensuring the system would work to its full potential.

“A key part of our industry liaison role is to sit with operators like Coastguard and go through their safety system page by page, making practical suggestions on how they can improve it,” says Darren.

It became obvious that the Coastguard units needed a revamped system that could then be customised for each vessel.

One of the southern region’s units, Coastguard Canterbury (based in Lyttelton), had just received a new 9.5 metre AMF boat, and was about to put in place an SSM system. This gave Mark an opportunity to develop a new system, with Darren’s support. The result was the production of a draft manual that could be used for the new boat, and an enthusiastic unit who were keen to put the safety system into practice.

Darren and Mark worked with Rachel McKenzie, Coastguard Canterbury’s safety officer, to complete 80 percent of the basic manual, allowing the unit to then customise the remaining 20 percent and take ownership of the final system. Rachel initially found the thought of putting in place a new safety system daunting, but said she knew it was something Coastguard Canterbury would ultimately benefit from.

“SSM on our previous vessel was always a mystery. One person looked after the manual and no one else even knew what was in it, let alone became involved in administering it,” says Rachel.

“We got a new rescue boat, so of course we got SSM along with it. In the meantime, personnel had changed and it was a steep learning curve to fi gure out what was actually needed. This really seemed like a huge mountain to climb. Enter Mark Whitehouse, our Regional Operations Manager, who had fortuitously been working on a new system with MNZ. Using us as guinea pigs, we worked and reworked the manual into a real living document.”

As a volunteer unit, time available to administer a safety system is limited. Rachel was determined that it would become something that every member was a part of and understood.

“The skippers take responsibility for training and safety drills and ensuring new crew members are inducted correctly. All members are responsible for maintenance and we hold a monthly maintenance night, which is well attended. This is also used as a training session for different aspects of the safety system. All crew are also responsible for ensuring that any hazards are recorded, and any accidents or incidents reported to the safety officer.

“I have found that by including all crew in the application of the safety system, the whole system becomes easier to administer, surveys go well, and crew are safer on the vessel,” says Rachel.

Rachel’s involvement in the project proved invaluable, as she had previous commercial experience with SSM systems, is a Coastguard Senior Master and was ‘Coastguard Volunteer of the Year’ in 2010.

Completing the remaining 20 percent of the manual involved creating customised:

  • launch and recovery procedures
  • maintenance plans that would be approved by surveyors
  • search and rescue procedures for a Coastguard vessel that fails to return from a rescue
  • emergency drills and a plan to maintain competence of all crew in these drills
  • regular in-house reviews of the systems in place within each unit.

Initially the MNZ templates provided by Darren were moulded to Coastguard use and aligned with what was known of the proposed MOSS system.

“This, in my opinion was the easy part. My biggest challenge was then to lead the change in a volunteer organisation,” says Mark. “The key was to get my units to take ownership through individual customisation of the systems and holding a workshop in each unit to introduce the system. During these workshops, the safety officers and skippers were encouraged to customise the remaining part of their procedures.”

The region-wide workshops took almost 12 months to complete. There was a fair amount of initial scepticism within some of the units. However, once they began to contribute in a constructive way and make the manuals their own, they embraced the new system. Since then, the system has been widely used, helping keep each and every unit safe.

During the annual unit capability study, Mark works with a unit and compiles a comprehensive report, highlighting areas that need addressing either through additional support from the region or work that is required by the unit. The following support is given for safety systems:

  • sending Coastguard volunteer safety system ‘champions’ such as Rachel McKenzie around to the units to work through any issues
  • a two-way initiative sending representatives from units to Rachel’s Coastguard Canterbury unit to observe the safety system fully integrated into the systems and processes of the unit
  • a focus group organised by Mark Whitehouse and Darren Guard for all unit safety officers to discuss system issues and explore possible solutions.

“Some operators may only need to add an item or two to their safety systems, but others may need more work. Either way, we can help them with practical advice and support to customise their safety systems to make them more useful and appropriate to their operation and ease the transition to MOSS,” says Darren.

It is a tribute to Mark’s commitment to the safety systems project that the new programme will now be rolled out nationally to all Coastguard units. A joint MNZ and Coastguard workshop took place at the Coastguard Conference in Taupo in 2010 where it was agreed that the new foundation safety systems manual be rolled out as an initiative to units that required it across the country.

“As New Zealand’s primary marine search and rescue agency, and one of the largest fl eet operators in New Zealand, Coastguard needed to be the leader rather than a follower when it came to safety on our vessels. Working with the governing body made the process much easier.

“Coastguard now has systems and processes in place that our volunteers understand and that we believe are robust enough to assist us with a seamless transition to MOSS in the future,” says Mark.

* ‘Safe Ship Management’ (SSM) is the current safety system in use in New Zealand’s domestic commercial maritime sector.

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