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INFORMED by safety data, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority is exploring options to increase lifejacket use across the domestic commercial vessel sector, focusing on sectors of the fleet with the greatest risk of a fatality following a person overboard incident.

The organisation is inviting feedback from industry on its proposal to make the wearing of lifejackets mandatory on some domestic commercial vessels.

AMSA chief Mick Kinley said the proposal aims to minimise the risk of drowning and achieve greater safety outcomes for all people on domestic commercial vessels.

“Advancements in lifejacket design have made lifejackets more wearable than ever before and are proven to save lives, especially for people on domestic commercial vessels,” Mr Kinley said.

“Old excuses that lifejackets are too bulky or awkward and people can’t work in them, no longer cut it with modern designs. Lifejackets on boats are like seatbelts in cars or hard hats and high visibility clothes on work sites. We need to make them a normal part of the personal protective equipment on commercial vessels where the risk is real.”

Maritime incident data between July 2018 to June 2021 showed 90 instances where people fell overboard. Of these incidents, 10 were fatal and 48 were categorised as very serious or serious. In 2020 alone, there were four fatalities all involving a crew member drowning after falling overboard.

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Currently, the National Law regulatory framework only mandates when a lifejacket must be worn for a very small number of circumstances. Set out in the National Standard for Commercial Vessels, these circumstances relate to the construction of the vessel and do not apply across the board.

Survivability expert Dr Paul Luckin said, “There is no doubt wearing a lifejacket improves both the prospect of staying alive and the likely survival time”.

The proposal to mandate lifejacket wear requirements will address a key safety issue that has been evidenced through safety data and numerous coronial recommendations.

AMSA is seeking feedback on a series of options and questions, set out in a consultation paper. The feedback received will help inform the kinds of operations where wearing a lifejacket should be mandated.

Industry consultation will be open until 17 December 2021.

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