“Are Superyacht Helidecks Safe Enough?”

The title of this piece comes from an article posted on Linkedin from Damen who produce a superyacht support vessel.  Clearly a piece of marketing, but with some interesting points of view. In this post I put forward my own thoughts on this subject.

I certainly think the Damen support vessel has a niche position within the industry, but from my experience most owners will want a ‘touch and go’ or permanent helideck for reasons of convenience, and not only would the cost of buying, manning and operating such a vessel be significant, as already pointed out, it would add to transfer time.

Convenience though, should not overshadow safety, and it is clearly important to consider the design of the helideck for flight ops, including, size, layout, lighting, firefighting, security, and protection and, importantly, access for pre-flight checks and routine maintenance. 

A suitable heli-deck is only one element that is key to the safe operation of helicopters on yachts.  Of equal, or perhaps greater importance, is to perform a thorough risk analysis that takes into account all the helicopter, vessel and helideck properties, and define the operational procedures and limitations, such as; wind speed/angle, pitch and roll, visibility, day or night ops, range, payload, etc. 

The yachts crew will also require proper training to ensure safe operation, and not just the helideck team, all crew, so they can take the appropriate action during any flight evolution. 

Close collaboration is necessary between the captain and flight crew who between them must assess the conditions on takeoff and landing.  On the latter point, the pilot must also have to trust in the captains’ experience of heli-ops and limitations, to ensure when he arrives at the yacht the conditions are within the agreed operational envelope. 

Ultimately these two will have the final say on ‘go, no-go’ and both must have safety at the forefront of their decisions and, the strength of character, professionalism and diplomacy to postpone flight operations that are considered marginal or unsafe – not always an easy thing to do.

To conclude, there is no reason why, with the proper assessment, design, operational procedures and training why a helideck on a yacht should be any less safe than a dedicated support vessel.

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