There are loads and loads of Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) templates available online – many people think of them as for IT only – the day that your computer terminally crashes or the server dies, or perhaps worse case scenario what happens when that bus comes along with your name on it? There are Risk Assessment proformas and endless Health and Safety features – all for good reason.

Each one must be right for your business or organisation as a quick scan online will bring up DRP’s ranging from Primary Schools to IBM. The key is whether you have one in place and whether it is right for you and your business – something that you are the expert on – however that brings it’s own dangers – the problem with being the expert is that what if you are not even aware of the right questions to ask in certain scenarios; in some circumstances those with less experience, or who we might think of as naive even, may in fact be your best asset.

They might be the ones that ask the questions you have not even thought of – and so ignore them at your peril!

That is exactly the situation we had on our boat; we had an expert ocean rower on board but he still did not recognise that the physical set up for the rowing positions was compromised – and as someone with no proper rowing training or experience why would he know? He justifiably relied on the experts who designed and built the boat but who had made fundamental errors in the set up of the boat. Yet he took the advice of the trained rowers on board who suggested changes had to be made following sea trials and took that advice and made the changes which in turn improved the performance of the boat and the crew’s ability to row her well.

Additional questions were raised by other crew members on aspects of how the boat was set up too – often dismissed out of hand because most of us had not been out on the deep ocean in such a rowing boat before.

Risk Assessment for me was developed around people asking me about what if things do go wrong and my standard answer was ‘What if they don’t?’

You can see the lengthwise safety line and below it with the spare oars strapped to it the safety bar. Without doubt that stopped us going over the side.

I also clearly remember asking about the validity of the heavy, what looked like over-engineered safety bars – my thought was to look at removing them as the safety line would be good enough….wouldn’t it?

The first night at sea showed that naivety can be dangerous – and at that point I was thinking I wish we had a bigger safety bar and was so grateful for the one we had as we were so often nearly swept overboard.

On a different, more sombre note, a couple of years after our trip a different skipper stuck to the view that the safety bars were not needed, that they were unnecessary and that turned into a decision I think he will like as not regret for the rest of his life.

So, on our boat we never went through any sort of Disaster Recovery Plan or even any sort of Risk Assessment – we all knew we had a safety bar, a safety line, lifejackets stowed ready for use, a liferaft ready and waiting, a self righting boat, grab bag, emergency food & water, a lifebelt – even things with letters on like EPRIB and AIS!

We had done the right training too so that was all sorted – VHF radio course, sea survival, day skipper qualification (probably inadequate).

So we had lots of ingredients but no recipe and certainly no finished ‘Bake Off’ winner!

We also had one main protocol – keep the hatches shut;  the only way the boat would self right in the event of a capsize is to have the hatches closed so that the cabins do not flood. If they flood you are done. Human nature is what it is though – it’s boiling hot in the cabin, you take every chance to have the hatches open to let the breeze through and that breeze is best when the wind is blowing and when the wind is blowing the seas are bigger. If the seas are bigger the chance of capsize is greater.

One could argue then that if you stop following the protocol and either have the hatches wide open, or wedge them partly open to convince yourself that will be ok, then what is the point of even having hatches? Yet if you said let’s go to sea without them people would think you are mad, you would think yourself to be mad – yet leaving them open becomes ok…..human beings eh?

The safety bar and the safety lines were viewed very differently because we used them on every single shift, whatever the weather was doing so we had a constant reminder of their value.

That was further demonstrated when the safety line broke and Mark Beaumont was so nearly lost overboard into the night, hanging on literally by his fingertips – I was doing exactly the same at the other end of the boat. It showed how much we needed it all the time and it showed just what would happen without it.

We never had a moment where we thought we could do without the safety bar or the safety line – that would have been madness but that reminder was never there with the hatches.  We kept dodging bullets and so became complacent as that danger faded into the background – but it was the one that nearly killed us.

I have a view on all things Risk Assessment, Disaster Recovery, Health & Safety – the latter is a great thing in so many ways and has no doubt helped save so many from injury or worse – but equally it can make us complacent to danger. That old adage that the best safety device we could fit to any car would not be bumpers, air bags, ABS brakes, seatbelts etc but it would be a sharp metal spike in the middle of the steering wheel….!

In hindsight it was not so much that we did not have a proper plan, rather that we had no plan at all, not even a discussion around what to do if things did go wrong. The list of things that can go wrong is endless and it would be impossible to cover them all individually, but a decent plan gives you a chance to recover quickly and well – for us it could have been anything from injury or illness for a crew member or worse; it could have been someone breaking down to the point where they could not stand it on board anymore and needed to get off – that has happened a number of times with different crews.

It could have been like on our boat where one member of the crew was becoming more and more violently irrational to the point of endangering the whole boat. It was a discussion that Mark and I had of had we reached the point where we needed to set off our EPRIB and call in a rescue before something went terribly wrong.

When things went wrong such as the rudder mechanism breaking or the decision was made to send someone over the side to check for barnacles it was all ‘in the moment’ and we did it ‘on the fly’, essentially making it up as we went along because we had no other choice. It’s not easy at all to haul someone back on board even when they have gone into the water from choice and in ideal conditions – at night, perhaps injured, in rough seas I wonder if that would even be possible.

For us we were by default dangerous, risky, stupid, ignorant, naive – all of those things applied – but we didn’t really know that and most importantly, we were fast! We were going to break the world record and become the first boat in history to row across the ocean in under 30 days weren’t we? That was our plan – simple and straightforward – we weren’t going to have a disaster – that happened to other people, not us… we had some real quick thinking ahead of us and it was going to come in a split second with no warning whatsoever – in fact it was worse than that because we had a big dose of complacency embedded into us by now.

We weren’t going to have a disaster – that happened to other people, not to us…..and then you are swimming!

Risk Assessment & Disaster Recovery – it seems almost like a waste of time but life does not run smoothly and the chances are there is a big wave out there somewhere and it has got your name on it!

Ian's Blog
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