Getting on and off the tender to the boat: 5 mistakes not to make!


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dinghy tender boat

Getting on and off the tender to the boat. Who hasn’t done this on summer vacation? Piece of cake, in short. Or maybe not? It is often behind the maneuvers that we do most habitually and “without thinking,” that is, automatically, that pitfalls can lurk. One example comes to us from MAIB’s Safety Digest 2020, Marine Accident Investingation Branch, which annually studies and reports on accidents that occur at sea in order to draw useful lessons from them. Let’s see how a crew, supposedly professionals, took a big risk because of a trivial, easily avoidable distraction.

Getting on and off the tender to the boat


A small dinghy with a tiller outboard motor was used to transfer the crew to a larger boat moored in the roadstead. Four crew members were on board. Two crew members had to board the larger boat before the boat returned to shore to pick up three other remaining crew members. All were wearing heavy waterproof clothing and life jackets.

Weather conditions

It was a cloudy winter day with a moderate breeze, but the sea was calm in the protected waters.


The helmsman pulled over to the starboard side of the moored boat with the left edge of the dinghy resting against the broadside. For the landing he put the engine in neutral, leaving it running. The crewmember on the front left side of the dinghy stood up and grabbed onto the mother boat to hold the boat alongside. The second and third crew members stood up, ready for the rapid boarding.

The helmsman moved the outboard with his left hand, pushing on the tiller to bring it back to center. As he did so, his left jacket caught on the gear selector, putting the engine forward. The boat began to move forward unbalancing the crew member holding the moored boat. This bumped into the second crew member-also unbalanced-who was preparing to board the ship, hitting the third crew member. Both the second and third crew members fell over the left side of the dinghy into the water, where their life jackets automatically inflated. Reacting quickly, the helmsman moved his arm away from the engine and stopped it by disconnecting the safety disconnect (did you know this is mandatory in the U.S.?). The remaining crew member and the coxswain retrieved the two crew members from the water, confirmed they were unharmed, and returned to shore to dry off and warm up.

What to learn from this incident

Boarding a vessel moored or anchored by another vessel can be dangerous. In this case, it had become normal practice for the transfer to take place with the boat supported by people holding on while the engine remained running.

outboard tender
Image source: MAIB

What to do to get on and off the tender to the boat

Here are five easy tips for not making mistakes and always being safe

  • If possible, secure them together with lines and turn off the engine before allowing the crew or passengers to stand up and begin boarding/disembarking.
  • This accident was caused by a very brief inattention of the helmsman, which led to two people ending up overboard. In small boats, controls can often be easily bumped, so careful handling is especially important, especially when people are moving around. Are your boat controls exposed? This is not only true in the case of the tiller, but also in the case of the throttle. Figure out first how to move without bumping into them.
  • The crew was dressed appropriately for the conditions. The two crew members who fell overboard swam cold, but were unharmed. Always wear a life jacket and safety equipment appropriate for the conditions.
  • The rapid recovery of people in the water reduced the danger of cold water shock. Make sure you and your crew are experienced in retrieving people from the water.
  • Keeping the safety disconnect engaged at all times allows us to be able to shut down the engine in a timely manner, even in the most difficult situations.



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