Preparing a superyacht for helideck operation
Last updated: 29/11/2017
An impending passenger arrival or delivery to the yacht deck aboard a helicopter needn’t be a stressful task for superyacht owner, charter guest or yacht crew; with a fully trained helideck crew and well-maintained helipad, the pilot should be able to land a helicopter right on the deck with with minimal fuss.
Whether a short hop from shore-to-ship, or an incoming flight from a longer-haul destination, arriving aboard a superyacht via helicopter makes for the quickest way to meet with the yacht as it travels around the world.
Yacht crew aviation training: Preparing for incoming and outgoing flights
With superyacht design becoming more and more innovative, responding to meet the demands of discerning superyacht owners and charter guests, it is not unlikely that the yacht on which you travel or work will be equipped to facilitate a helicopter for private, on-demand travel – whether a dedicated helideck or a smaller ‘touch and go’ area.
It may be the helicopter pilot who has to be capable of landing on a fast-moving yacht, but the captain and yacht crew must also be trained to help, and to cope in the event that something should go wrong, as in these cases, it can go spectacularly wrong.
There are many yacht crew aviation training specialists located around the world who can help in preparing the superyacht and its crew for heli operations - search crew training providers or read crew training guides here.
Yacht crew aviation training schools
There are a few factors that should help in choosing an aviation training school for your crew training needs, least of all location. Training providers often can, and will, travel to the yacht wherever it is in the world, providing bespoke training packages to suit the yacht’s needs.
Jonathan Turner of Superyacht Aviation advised, “Currently, as most yachts that operate helicopter facilities are private yachts, training can be provided by organisations with an established background in maritime aviation and sufficient specialised knowledge and experience of operating helicopters at sea. This training should be organised and empathetic to the requirements of crew operating luxury yachts.
“Personnel requiring specific qualifications, such as those accredited by OPITO and the MCA, should be trained by organisations that are approved to deliver those training courses by the appropriate body.”
Helideck training requirements: Private vs. commercial superyachts
As with much marine regulation, qualification requirements for yacht helideck crew are dependent on the specifications required by the yacht’s flag state of registry, and whether the vessel is being operated for private or commercial use.
As a general rule, training requirements on board a private yacht are much more relaxed than that required of a commercial or charter yacht. Jonathan Turner, company director of Superyacht Aviation explained, “Helideck crews aboard private yachts do not usually need to be trained to a specific standard as they do when working on board a commercial yacht, but as a minimum, SOLAS requires that ‘helicopter operations manuals and training should be provided’.”
If a commercially operated yacht has a helideck however, it is an IMO SOLAS requirement that yacht crew trained in firefighting and rescue are available aboard at all times. All maritime registries and classification societies also require these vessels to have crews available to competently operate on and around the helideck to ensure its smooth and safe operation. They also require operation manuals and procedures to be put in place, which is where an established yacht aviation training company can step in to lend a hand.
It is however recommended that crew on private yachts are trained to the same high standards as those on board commercial yachts as best practice. Jon Llewellyn, helideck manager at HeliOperations explained, “In the event of an helicopter accident occurring on a vessel where it was discovered that no crew had undertaken any form of training in helideck operations, the owner, management or charter company would be in very hot water indeed.
“Having a properly trained, competent and current crew reduces risk, increases efficiency and ensures that in the event of an emergency occurring on the helideck, it will be dealt with in the most efficient manner.”
Which crew members should undergo helideck training?
The larger the yacht, the larger the yacht crew, so, which crew members are best placed to enforce and uphold helideck operations aboard?
Jonathan Turner of Superyacht Aviation explained, “On the majority of vessels, the deck department will assume the role of helideck crew, and, on occasion, engineering. This is because practically, the helideck is usually in operation when guests are arriving and departing, meaning hospitality is usually pretty busy at these times while there are usually deck crew available.”
In general, the helideck crew of any yacht typically comprises of one helicopter landing officer (HLO) and two or three helideck assistants (HDA). The HLO controls the helideck operation and provides support around refueling and securing the aircraft, escorting passengers, etc., whereas the HDA’s provide the fire and rescue capability in the event of an accident.
Jon Llewellyn of HeliOperations said, “The role of the HLO is normally undertaken by one of the yacht officers. Although there is no prerequisite, it is recognised as good practice to have someone in authority in this role, also with previous helideck experience as a HDA where possible.
“The HDA role can be assigned to any crew member that has successfully undergone the training, assessed as capable of carrying out this role by the training provider or Aviation Inspection Body (AIB). In practice, any member of the crew should be capable having completed the STCW 95/10 courses.”
What will yacht crew learn?
Depending on the training provider and the nature of the course selected, HLO’s and HAD’s can often be trained on board their working superyacht, or at a training site. Each student should usually be trained to the MCA’s Helideck Safety Training Syllabus as a minimum.
Typically, such training courses range from half a day to up to five days, and will see students learn:
- Paperwork and documentation-keeping
- Practical safety procedures in helicopter operations and equipment testing
- Passenger embarkation/disembarkation
- Safety drills and/or refueling
The cost of such courses will depend on the course(s) undertaken, numbers attending and the location of teaching. They will usually combine classroom and practical on-shore learning, especially when it comes to fire safety and rescue.
Are refresher courses required?
Once a helideck crew is fully trained, it’s best practice to ensure that they are kept up-to-speed with training.
Although the standard periodicity for HLO and HDA requalification is two years, refresher training is an important part of any helideck crew training cycle and should be conducted on at least an annual basis. In between this time, on board training should be arranged every four to six months to maintain currency, or as new members join the yacht.
What’s required to operate a yacht helideck on board?
Most flag states require all commercial yachts to be in possession of a Helicopter Landing Area Certificate (HLCA), issued by an aviation inspection body (AIB). Some maritime registry codes must also assess the operating competence of the crew before issuing such a certificate.
Jon Llewellyn of HeliOperations explained, “As an example, Red Ensign Group Large Yacht Code (LY3) registered vessels that are in charter, or intended for charter, must have a helideck crew with either an Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation (OPITO) certificate or equivalent, or MCA accredited helideck crew. There is, however, no competence assessment of the crew overall.
“On the other hand, the Republic of the Marshall Islands required the crew to be trained by an appropriate training provider, and the AIB will assess and validate training as being fit for the purpose of that vessel.”
Periodic helideck maintenance
Alongside yacht crew training, it’s also important to ensure the periodic review and maintenance of any yacht helideck – private or commercial yacht.
Jonathan Turner of Superyacht Aviation advised, “By law, only commercial helidecks are required to be audited every two years, although we recommend that private yachts’ helidecks and helicopter landing areas are also audited periodically in line with good safety management.
“Whether the facilities are used regularly or not, the helideck’s equipment can become worn due to use or weathering.”