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Emergency Refueling at Sea (Web Extra)

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This Web Extra complements the special Towing & Salvage package that appears in the November/December 2013 issue of PassageMaker.

Escorting a fleet of 18 boats across the Atlantic during the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally (NAR) of 2004 required lots of planning that encompassed dealing with every conceivable problem—including transferring fuel if necessary. In our NAR operations manual issued before our departure from Ft. Lauderdale, we included detailed standard operating procedures for mid-ocean refueling, reproduced below:


NAR escort vessels have the capability to transfer a limited quantity of fuel to another vessel. Depending on the sea conditions, this will be accomplished by using a small boat to ferry containers of fuel or by pumping fuel through a hose that has been passed between the vessels. In calm seas, transfer via small boat is the preferred method. If seas preclude the use of a small boat and the requirement for fuel is extremely urgent, a second method will be used, following these basic procedures:

VHF communications should be maintained throughout the refueling process to ensure delivery to the second vessel and avoid any ocean spills.

VHF communications should be maintained throughout the refueling process to ensure delivery to the second vessel and avoid any ocean spills.

Communications are via VHF with the working channel designated by the delivery vessel. All personnel working on deck must wear life jackets, and a third vessel will be positioned astern of the transfer and delivery vessels in “life guard station,” in case a man-overboard recovery is necessary. In the event that a person falls overboard during refueling operations, the yacht in “life guard station” is automatically designated the recovery vessel.

Each NAR yacht will be expected to have a short towing bridle pre-connected to the towing eye on the bow and ready to be connected to a towing hawser passed from the delivery vessel.

The receiving vessel proceeds on a steady course at the minimum speed required to maintain steerageway, taking the seas off the bow to minimize pitch and yaw. Once steady, the base course and speed are passed to the delivery vessel. The delivery vessel then maneuvers to take position ahead of the receiving vessel so that the distance between the delivery vessel’s stern and the bow of the receiving vessel is close enough for the refueling hose to reach the fuel intake on the receiving vessel. When in position, the delivery vessel passes a messenger line, followed by a towline, from her stern to the bow of the receiving vessel. The towline is secured to the towing bridle of the receiving vessel.

Once the towline has been securely attached, the receiving vessel places her rudder amidships and reduces speed in very small increments so that the delivery vessel gradually begins to pull the receiving vessel through the water. The fuel hose, with flotation attached, is then trailed back to the receiving vessel and taken aboard. Once the hose has been secured on board and the receiving vessel is ready to take on fuel, the delivery ship is told via VHF voice when to commence pumping.

On completion of refueling, the fuel hose is capped and passed back over the side of the receiving boat, well clear of running gear, and is hauled back to the delivery ship. Once the hose is back on board, the delivery vessel lets out on the towline to increase the distance between the two vessels. When the distance has opened, the receiving vessel slowly increases speed to take the strain off the towline and disconnects it. Once disconnected, the delivery vessel reels in the towline; the receiving vessel reduces speed and slips back from the delivery vessel until the separation between the two vessels is sufficient to allow them to safely maneuver independently.