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Old 23-04-2008, 05:15   #1
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'Forcible Evacuation'

We’ve had threads recently that have discussed the dilemma faced by a skipper sailing offshore in a storm when his crew decides that they have had enough and want the Coast Guard to take them off the boat. A key component of the discussion revolved around just what is the Coast Guard’s policy regarding “forcible evacuation” of such a boat’s occupants. Specifically, can the captain decide to remain aboard if he believes that he can handle the situation, or will the Coast Guard force him to evacuate. Is it an “all or none” evacuation situation?

This question has intrigued me quite a bit, so I contacted the U.S. Coast Guard via email. Ensign Jodie Knox, of the USCG Office of Search and Rescue, was kind enough to respond. I’ve copied my original email and Ensign Knox’s response below.

The bottom line is, it "depends on the circumstances", but the Coast Guard has the flexibility to remove crew and allow the master of the vessel to remain aboard, as long as “doing so would not be life threatening”. Or, the CG commander can decide that all occupants must be removed, captain included.


The USCG Search & Rescue manual may be found here: SAR Manuals
Here’s my question, and the USCG response.

============================================

Good morning,

I participate in a couple of Internet discussion groups on offshore sailing. There's an important topic that comes up from time to time. It concerns the US Coast Guard's policy regarding removal of crew from a vessel in an offshore storm. I hope you can provide information to help clarify the issue.


The senario: a private sailing yacht is offshore in Force 9 or 10 conditions. Conditions are very uncomfortable, and two of the crew are seasick. The skipper is confident that the boat will weather the storm, because he has been through this before, but the less experienced crew has panicked and wants off. Without the skipper's knowledge or consent (while he's sleeping, off-watch), they trigger the EPIRB and/or call the CG on shortwave radio, asking to be rescued. The CG responds with a helicopter, which establishes VHF contact with the vessel. Similar situations have actually occurred in several cases that I'm aware of. The sailing yacht Satori, in the Halloween storm of 1991 is an example.

At this point, the skipper radios the CG that the boat has no immediate problems that would threaten the safety of the boat or crew. And, as far as he's concerned, the crew can abandon ship and be winched up into the helo if they want, but he is confident that he can continue to safely sail the boat alone, and reach port without any further assistance.

What is the CG's official policy with regard to removing crew from a "vessel in distress" where the skipper says that there is no "distress"? Will the responding unit remove the crew members that want to leave, and let the skipper remain, or will they insist that ALL or NONE must be removed?

This is an important issue for me as owner and skipper of a 38' sailboat, because I always recruit individuals to help as crew when I make offshore passages. Sometimes the crew members are very good sailors, but have limited offshore experience. I would like to be able to explain the Coast Guard's policy to crew members before heading offshore, so that everyone has a clear understanding of what the options are.


USCG Response: Forcible Evacuation

This is a tough question to answer since every situation in regards to forcible evacuation can be different. When conducting search and rescue, the Coast Guard follows policy outlined in the ‘U.S. Coast Guard Addendum to the United States SAR Supplement’. Forcible evacuations are covered in Chapter 4 of this manual. I have drawn from the parts of chapter 4 that answer your specific questions and pasted them for you to read through and use when briefing your crew before an offshore voyage. If you have any further questions, please contact the Office of Search and Rescue at 202-372-2075 and we will further assist you.

The policy which gives the Coast Guard authority to conduct forcible evacuation of vessels is stated in the ‘U.S. Coast Guard Addendum to the United States SAR Supplement’:

4.2.1 Authority
The Coast Guard is authorized to perform any and all acts to rescue and aid persons and protect and save property at any time and any place where its facilities and personnel are available and can be effectively used. This includes the authority to force or compel mariners to abandon their vessels when a life-threatening emergency exists, and there is an immediate need for assistance or aid.

There is no ‘all or none’ policy. If the crew on a vessel feels that they are in danger, the Coast Guard will assist those crew members in distress. This policy is outlined in the ‘U.S. Coast Guard Addendum to the United States SAR Supplement’, and states:

4.2.6 Distressed Vessel Master’s Authority Limitation in Regards to Crew Evacuation
Once the Coast Guard issues an evacuation order, the master of the vessel has no authority to prevent his or her crew from complying with evacuation instructions, and any use or attempted use of force by the master to prevent his or her crew from complying with evacuation instructions may constitute a criminal offense.

In a situation where the crew wishes to depart the vessel because they feel they are in distress but the captain feels there is no distress and wishes to remain, the Coast Guard will remove the crew members that want to leave. The captain or master may remain with their vessel so long as doing so would not be life threatening. The responding Coast Guard unit will make the determination whether or not to leave the captain or master with their vessel. This decision is based on a variety of factors including but not limited to: on scene environmental conditions, the presence of a hazardous bar, shoals or other hazardous obstruction, crew experience and the condition of the mariner’s vessel.

ENS Jodie L. Knox
Office of Search and Rescue (CG-5341)
22 April, 2008
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Old 23-04-2008, 05:40   #2
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Interesting stuff....

Seems to me that plenty of scope for the Skipper to remain onboard once crew have departed........even if perhaps needs a bit of firmness from the Skipper in asserting that a) both he and the vessel are perfectly fine and b) the risk involved in abandoning is vastly greater than simply remaining on board.........and maybe also a bit of Nelsonian style deafness - rather than perhaps an outright refusal to leave.

But as the CG say, every situation is different........but I really cannot see how - practically - they could physically force someone off a boat in bad conditions - where both parties need to fully co-operate......I would have thought this is one that would end up being resolved legally once ashore - but the fact that the Skipper sailed back is kinda proof that his judgement was correct......of course I appreciate that in the legal / bureaucratic world simply being right is not always a defence against conviction!
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Old 23-04-2008, 06:34   #3
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Thanks for the excellent & definitive research, Hud.
As one who described (and generally advocate) the "All or Nobody" rescue policy I stand corrected.
In practice, I believe (& my experience suggests) that the all or nothing principle is most often applied (tho' not forcibly).
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Old 23-04-2008, 06:38   #4
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Very interesting, and important.
But it is important to note that this is not representative of the rest of the world. Although similar things may happen to a more or lesser degree elsewhere, other coast guards have different "cultures". Some countries "coast guards" are volunteer only and have NO right of removal. Other countries more like the states (America) the organization is "quasi military" with a huge amount of power, especially recently. It is important for the international members of this forum to know when the situation discussed is of a particular countries organization.
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Old 23-04-2008, 09:11   #5
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If I feel there is no danger for my life, and vessel. I will be glad to be rid of the crew, and continue on. They can serve me with papers when I return, and as D.O.J. stated my proof is in my arrival.

After sailing in 50knot winds rounding Point Conception in California while single-handing. I am prone to stay with my vessel. I have been taught by my boat. That a well founded boat is a whole lot tougher than the skipper.

Once the sea threw me from the same boat trying to eat me. That boat yanked me back abaord before I hit the water. With a hurt back we sailed on, and arrived in Cabo a day later. That was a case of the boat wanting to keep me....I LOVE MY HARNESS!!!!!:kissy:
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Old 23-04-2008, 10:25   #6
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I would suggest that the USCG's "authority to compel" is there mainly to ensure that crew (including professional crew) can legally follow orders from the USCG to abandon ship, without arguing that doing so was a mutiny against captain's orders.

The USCG often practice great discretion and they have better things to do than use force of arms during a rescue. But, this law gives them the AUTHORITY to ensure they have all options open to them.
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Old 23-04-2008, 17:14   #7
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Quote:
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Thanks for the excellent & definitive research, Hud.
As one who described (and generally advocate) the "All or Nobody" rescue policy I stand corrected.
In practice, I believe (& my experience suggests) that the all or nothing principle is most often applied (tho' not forcibly).
Gord,

I wonder if there's some kind of psychological thing that causes the skipper to "go along with the crowd", and abandon ship voluntarily, when he could really keep on going? If someone has never experienced the chaos, noise, discomfort and physical abuse of being in a storm offshore, it's hard to understand why that might happen.
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Old 23-04-2008, 19:21   #8
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Hud, there exists such a wide scope of determining variables that it is very hard to define how you would act in a similar situation.

I can’t speak for other masters but in a survival situation where options are available in transferring to another vessel or Helicopter, my priorities would be as such:

FIRST responsibility would be towards the welfare of the crew and I would assess if they are psychologically “beaten” and even a danger to themselves. If so, I would accompany them to a rescue vessel to give them support, if that was the prudent thing to do.

SECOND responsibility is to the rescuing crew and I would not allow my panicked crew to endanger those trying to respond to a mayday call if conditions were not that severe for us to justify it. (I have experience with a rescuing vessel foundering with all loss of hands trying to reach a mayday call and the distressed vessel rode through the storm ok.) So Sad!

THIRD responsibility is to my own vessel and if convinced that my own safety is manageable and the conditions are improving, I would remain with the yacht, if the boat is salvageable and the crew were in good hands elsewhere.
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Old 24-04-2008, 03:28   #9
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Gord,
I wonder if there's some kind of psychological thing that causes the skipper to "go along with the crowd", and abandon ship voluntarily, when he could really keep on going? If someone has never experienced the chaos, noise, discomfort and physical abuse of being in a storm offshore, it's hard to understand why that might happen.
A skipper must be a leader - not a follower; but many of us are not qualified, by nature or training (or both) for the responsibilities of command. The propensity to succumb to mass hysteria, or mob mentality, would not be a characteristic of one fit to lead.
(One “leads” others through danger, as it’s difficult to command or manage others in these circumstances)


I’ve observed a couple of incidents wherein the skipper wanted his crew (family) evacuated (helicopter), whilst [himself] remained aboard. In both instances, the USCG insisted that the boat & crew were either in imminent danger, or they were not - hence “all or none”.

In one incident, the Catamaran had disabled it’s steering, and the skipper evacuated with family. The boat was later found safely adrift, and recovered; a few miles South of the rescue scene at Cat Cay, Bahamas. This occurred during a significant storm (Xmas ‘92 ?), in which one boat was washed ashore, and driven right over Gun Cay, and numerous others suffered significant damage at Cat Cay Marina.

In the other incident, the skipper & crew remained aboard, and survived unhurt.

I have personally given the order to abandon ship, during the “Storm of the Century” (Easter ‘93), whilst in Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera.

After, what seemed (was probably only about ½ Hour) to be a very long a “battle”, trying to escape the harbour, it became obvious that “Southbound” was going on the rocks.

The decision to evacuate was made in an instant, and carried out within a minute.
There was no confusion, fear nor panic. The situation was crystal clear, and left only one prudent action. . Probably a result of psychological shock, Maggie & I faced the loss of “everything” with a stoic equanimity.

It would likely have been more difficult to remain in command (of myself & my crew), had we been under duress for a much longer time.

Whilst Maggie & our guest embarked the dinghy, I (literally) threw out 3 anchors, and we departed. Upon arriving ashore, it became apparent that one anchor had snagged something, and “Southbound” was holding fast, a couple of hundred yards off the rocks.
(I later determined that an anchor chain (not the anchor) had wrapped a coral head)

Thanks to the heroic efforts of the Club Med water-ski instructor, who launched his Whaler ski boat, and Captain Fou, who swam out to “Southbound” with me (both responded to my handheld VHF “Pan Pan”), and helped me secure a tow-rope, then directed us to the only remaining Mooring (from Hurricane Andrew), the boat was saved. We lost a headsail, seized the engine, sank & shredded the dingy & outboard.

We returned to Ft. Lauderdale, and I entered upon a new career in boat repair.
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Old 24-04-2008, 12:44   #10
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Gord,

That Eleuthera adventure is quite a story! In fact when I read it, I felt like I had read about it somewhere before. Then it dawned on me this morning, that I had read such a story, but realized that it was in a book by Peter Muilenburg called "Adrift on a Sea of Blue Light."

He describes the experience of anchoring his 42' gaff-rigged ketch, "Breath", in Governor's Harbour, Eleuthera. Tropical Storm Barry formed unexpectedly overnight, and "Breath" began to drag her anchor as the wind built. His engine was inoperable, and the 75 lb. CQR and 70 lb. Bruce couldn't bite into the coral bed under a thin layer of sand.

Suddenly a Boston Whaler with two frenchmen from Club Med arrived on the scene, took his Fisherman anchor and 250' of chain out to it's limit, and came back to help him winch the boat back into deeper water. No mention of Captain Fou in his account.

Quite a coincidence!
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Old 24-04-2008, 13:34   #11
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The good thing is that 99% of the time it really is smooth sailing. That 1%, or less sure does make our friends eyes as big as saucers, and think we are crazy!!!!!!
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Old 24-04-2008, 14:02   #12
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... Gord,Quite a coincidence!
Not a coincidence, at all. Eleuthera is no place for a cruiser to weather a storm. Governor's Harbour is amongst the worst places to anchor in sprightly conditions. The harbour has a few inches of sand, over coral, so it's your chain the holds you - not the anchor (except it's deadweight).

T/S “Barry” was a strong tropical storm that caused minor damage in the western Florida Panhandle, during August of 2001.
National Hurricane Center Tropical Cyclone Report

The Superstorm, or “Storm of the Century” (of which I speak) occurred in March (12 – 15) of 1993.
NOAA 200th Top Tens: Historical Events: Forecasting the "Storm of the Century"

”Adrift in a Sea of Blue Light” (great title!) was published in 2005.

I first reported my experience, here at CF on 29-03-2003 at http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f108/do-now-203.html
www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f108/do-now-203.html
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Old 24-04-2008, 14:15   #13
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Muilenberg's book, though printed in 2005, is a collection of stories originally published in various magazines years earlier, even back into the '70s. In the story, he mentions the "new Club Med, recently built on the beach next to town." I got the feeling that his "Club Med Rescue" occured in the early '80s. There was a TS Barry in 1983 that grazed the Bahamas before heading for Florida and the Gulf.
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Old 24-04-2008, 14:21   #14
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Muilenberg's book, though printed in 2005, is a collection of stories originally published in various magazines years earlier, even back into the '70s. In the story, he mentions the "new Club Med, recently built on the beach next to town." I got the feeling that his "Club Med Rescue" occured in the early '80s. There was a TS Barry in 1983 that grazed the Bahamas before heading for Florida and the Gulf.
You're correct - there was a hurricane "Barry" in August of '93.
Hurricane Barry (1983 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
This was nearly a decade prior to my taking much interest in Tropical weather.
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Old 08-05-2008, 15:13   #15
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This is quite an interesting thread. I never knew about the CG's ability to determine that they rescue 'all or none.'

I think HelloSailer has a point about the cover needed for crew to avoid mutiny and similar charges.

But I have questions about the practicalities of the CG effecting an all-or-none edict if the captian is the last to get off and changes his mind at the last minute and decides to stay with his boat. In fact, maybe that was his intention from the beginning, but he didn't make it known until the crew was off the boat.

Then what does the CG do? Fight about it? I think not. Fuel is running low. So after the storm, what is the CG's next move, criminal or civil charges against the captain for failing to follow orders during a rescue? Is that what this degenerates into? To save your boat you have to risk losing your boat to the goverment?

Further, what about the situation where the captain has no objection to the crew being rescued but wants to personally remain on the boat, and communicates this fact to the CG. CG says no, it's all or nobody. Captian says, fine, have it your way, nobody is coming off my boat, goodbye.

Later the captain and all hands are lost. Does CG have some liability in that situation? The crew was asking for rescue; CG was there and would have rescued but for the all-or-nothing edict. Captain didn't object to the rescue; crew certainly didn't object; only the CG objected.

I understand the beauracratic impulse to protect agency resources by avoiding the potential of becoming a lift service for crew who find the ride bouncier than expected. But I don't think the CG has thought this all the way through.

And for the twilight zone, what about that day when the captain explains that, yes, they are in imminent danger but the captain has decided that as an old man his time has come and he is willing to go down with the boat, but the CG is free to save the crew if CG wishes. Does this lead to a fist fight in the cockpit as the CG tries to pull this old man off his boat? Do we have to now equip CG swimmers with stun guns?

I admit I have an innate dislike of goverment heavy-handedness. The exercise of raw power just about begs for a like response in me.
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