Should I Stay or Should I Go

I remember reading on the forum a while back that some companies have an SMS flow chart for when to abandon/ when to fight. Is there any chance someone would be willing to send me a copy?

Obviously in a major emergency, I don’t plan on pulling out a flow chart but I would like to incorporate something into our onboard training to get the mental wheels turning in the right direction.

Thanks in advance

I’ve never seen an SMS incorporate this. Common teachings I’ve always been told were to never abandon ship unless absolutely necessary. It’s better to float around on a mostly ruined ship than to float around on a lifeboat.
That being said, I imagine many SMSs leave that call up to the captain. I imagine it would put the company in a weird position to detail that much rather than it being on the master. ISM states, “The Company should establish in the SMS that the master has the overriding authority and the responsibility to make decisions with respect to safety and pollution prevention and to request the Company’s assistance as may be necessary.” So procedures for fighting fire, procedures for what to do in a collision/allison, procedures for flooding/dewatering, all sorts of other emergency procedures, and finally procedures for abandoning ship. So it’s the company’s responsibility to provide these procedures as much as possible and the Master’s job to follow them, use his professional judgment and deviate from them when necessary or when the procedure doesn’t exactly fit the context of the situation, and he should have some very good reasoning as to why he would deviate from SOP that would hold up with the company and in court.

For “when” to abandon ship, only ever as a last resort.

One addendum I just thought of, if you’re abandoning onto a responding vessel. In that case you’re just moving onto a safer location. It does become trickier when you start to define who is the incident commander in this type of situation, is it still the original master? Is it the responding vessels from another company, is it the Coast Guard(or other municipal authorities) and at what points do these transitions of on-scene commander happen. This has come up as an issue in a few major incidents in the past 2 decades. It also happens shoreside when you have multiple agencies responding to any type of emergency.

For a fire I always had a one extinguisher rule. If I can’t put a fire out with a single extinguisher than it may be time for deploying the fixed system.

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Here’s the flow chart we use in our company to help make that decision. Since we do firefighting training on an annual basis it is not unusual for captains to be tested on it then::


One thing to add: when you look at the history of marine fires in the Bering Sea fleet, the whole shebang, from first report of smoke to loss of vessel, or extinguishment, is measured in minutes. Say, in an hour. Some, like the amazing story of the Pacific Glacier fire, can go on for days, but that’s very rare. So, the flow chart keeps things simple. Big concepts. And no mention of outside help, because that would be normal given the short, intense period of the firefighting operation. (Pacific Glacier excluded again. Somebody ought to write a book about that fire because it shows Bering Sea fishermen at their best. Everyone nitpicks over mistakes. No one analyzes success).


You make very good points. I imagine in the cases where SMS does provide guidance, it’s more of a COLREG Rule 8 situation, leaving plenty of room for on the scene discretion. My thinking is obviously getting into the rafts would be a very last resort, but that it could also be extremely easy to get tunnel vision in an emergency and giving the order too late.

I’ve seen some previous guidance recommending pulling the plug after a certain percentage of watertight compartments have been compromised or an entire deck level has been lost to fire but I imagine the vessel size and layout would add caveats. I’m on 1600 ton vessels so I would think we would get to the abandon ship point faster than deep drafts with more compartments (in most cases).

I suppose I’m looking for certain mile markers, once crossed, no further flood/fire control is really thought about, the thinking just goes straight to abandon ship. Sort of how as soon as we lose steering, the first thing we do is swap pumps, almost as a reflex.

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Amen to that, brother

This is exactly what I’m looking for; thank you!