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Old 04-17-2021, 01:33 PM   #1
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Seacor liftboat capsizes in Gulf of Mexico

We often talk about sea conditions and storms coming up quickly. Sometimes even the professionals don't escape them. On Tuesday, we had a thunderstorm with the power of a hurricane and 25' seas and 100 mph gusts. There was a warning but the Seacor Power Lift Boat didn't clear in time.

https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/17/weath...zed/index.html

Two more bodies recovered on Friday and searches still underway.

https://www.wdsu.com/article/divers-...vors/36132435#

All I can say for recreational boaters is be cautious, when cruising stay in constant contact with weather sources, and respond the best you can to any changes in conditions.

In this case, abandoning ship was the best move for survival, which is against the instinct of professional mariners. However, the water there is warm enough to survive for several days if clear of the ship itself. We do see recreational boaters often try to save their boat from various disasters when being prepared to quickly get away from it and having the right gear may be the better choice.
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Old 04-17-2021, 03:35 PM   #2
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There was a warning but the Seacor Power Lift Boat didn't clear in time.

Since this story broke, I've had to do a lot of googling "power lift vessel". I think it would take a stout heart to put to sea in something like that in almost any conditions.
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Old 04-17-2021, 05:06 PM   #3
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A Horrific tragedy....We may be headed there
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Old 04-17-2021, 05:44 PM   #4
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In this case, abandoning ship was the best move for survival, which is against the instinct of professional mariners. However, the water there is warm enough to survive for several days if clear of the ship itself. We do see recreational boaters often try to save their boat from various disasters when being prepared to quickly get away from it and having the right gear may be the better choice.
Northern Gulf water temps are about 68 F now. One table I looked at showed survival time from 2 to 40 hours. In those heavy seas, the exertion necessary to just keep afloat to breathe would take a lot of energy resulting in death in the lower part of that range.
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Old 04-17-2021, 05:57 PM   #5
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Sounds like absolutely vicious conditions with an awful tragic result.

Is it possible with these vessels, as long as the water is deep enough, to lower those vertical supports? You'd think that would lower the centre of gravity and would reduce roll. Even then, not a design I'd ever, ever, ever want to be in rough water with. Looks like 25' seas would have been coming through the windows on the bridge.
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Old 04-17-2021, 06:24 PM   #6
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Sounds like absolutely vicious conditions with an awful tragic result.

Is it possible with these vessels, as long as the water is deep enough, to lower those vertical supports? You'd think that would lower the center of gravity and would reduce roll. Even then, not a design I'd ever, ever, ever want to be in rough water with. Looks like 25' seas would have been coming through the windows on the bridge.
I could imagine that if the area was shallow enough to lift the vessel clear of the raging seas on its spuds that the decision to make the attempt would have to be made before the seas had the vessel bouncing around in such a way that the stresses on the spud attachment points cause catastrophic damage.

Like you, I wonder if it would be prudent to lower the spuds to change the center of gravity dramatically downward in deeper waters, but again, there are likely limitations on sea state for doing so.

Maybe a mariner familiar with these rigs can inform us.
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Old 04-17-2021, 06:54 PM   #7
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I had a chance to be a lift boat captain.

My old boss bought a company that lost 2 in a couple years due to bad weather that he wound up salvaging.

After discussing the boats/operations with our newly trained captains and based the vessel's safety records...I politely declined.

Neither riding out bad weather or spudding down is as foolproof as one thinks.

https://www.nola.com/news/business/a...0bdfe5228.html
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Old 04-17-2021, 07:36 PM   #8
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Northern Gulf water temps are about 68 F now. One table I looked at showed survival time from 2 to 40 hours. In those heavy seas, the exertion necessary to just keep afloat to breathe would take a lot of energy resulting in death in the lower part of that range.
Temperature in the water where this happened was 72 so cleared the 70 degree threshold. They measured when picking up the survivors and continuing the rescue.
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Old 04-17-2021, 07:44 PM   #9
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I had a chance to be a lift boat captain.

My old boss bought a company that lost 2 in a couple years due to bad weather that he wound up salvaging.

After discussing the boats/operations with our newly trained captains and based the vessel's safety records...I politely declined.

Neither riding out bad weather or spudding down is as foolproof as one thinks.

https://www.nola.com/news/business/a...0bdfe5228.html
We have an engineer who spent 18 months in the Gulf on various supply and utility vessels, but never on a boat like the one in this story and says no way she would have. She was on 180'+ fast supply vessels and 280'+ platform supply vessels.
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Old 04-17-2021, 07:44 PM   #10
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70 degree threshold?

Was that surface temp when the people entered the water?

Wind cooled surface remp can be a lot cooler than even buoy measured SST.

Heck, just being under a helo with rotor wash there is an amazing difference....like wind chill.
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Old 04-17-2021, 08:57 PM   #11
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Sounds like absolutely vicious conditions with an awful tragic result.

Is it possible with these vessels, as long as the water is deep enough, to lower those vertical supports? You'd think that would lower the centre of gravity and would reduce roll. Even then, not a design I'd ever, ever, ever want to be in rough water with. Looks like 25' seas would have been coming through the windows on the bridge.
It might reduce the roll. However, it might also make the roll so slow that the waves pound over the ship rather than the ship riding over the waves more. It would also probably drop the speed way down, making maneuvering tougher.
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Old 04-17-2021, 09:01 PM   #12
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We're not that far from there and it was crazy in our marina that day. We were getting easy 50 knot winds, with higher gusts. I felt like Jim Cantor walking down the dock to check on our boat. I grabbed one of the lines that was under tension from the wind, and could not move it an inch!

I was not shocked to hear that some boats like this one got in trouble. It blew down an oak tree in our back yard.

I would not have wanted to be caught out in that.
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Old 04-17-2021, 09:12 PM   #13
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We're not that far from there and it was crazy in our marina that day. We were getting easy 50 knot winds, with higher gusts. I felt like Jim Cantor walking down the dock to check on our boat. I grabbed one of the lines that was under tension from the wind, and could not move it an inch!

I was not shocked to hear that some boats like this one got in trouble. It blew down an oak tree in our back yard.

I would not have wanted to be caught out in that.
No, and I read on various accounts of guests over 100 mph and seas up to 45' rather than the 25' I mentioned. I just saw one video with the seas and they looked around 20' or so but so steep like they were falling off a cliff.
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Old 04-17-2021, 09:26 PM   #14
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Seacor liftboat capsizes in Gulf of Mexico

Ok. This is in my wheelhouse, so to speak, so I will try to make some cogent comments.

From 1983 through 1987 I was the general manager of a company that owned and operated six liftboats that were, at the time, the largest of the class. These boats, through a series of company acquisitions, are now in the Power Boat Rentals Fleet which itself is now part of Seacor. The capsized vessel in question was not one of these since it was built long after I left.

The first thing to realize is that when originally conceived and built, liftboats were much smaller and only worked in the bays and marshes that were the hub of the Louisiana oil industry. As the offshore fields developed, a company called Blue Streak Industries introduced a deep water version of the boats with 130’ leg lengths capable of operating in 60’ water depths. At the time there were no USCG rules for inspection of these vessels so they operated outside of the USCG certification process. They were built as lightly as possible so that they could be jacked up with fairly lightweight rack and pinion jacking systems. Making them lightweight generally meant 1/4” steel shell plating, widely spaced framing, shallow hull depth resulting in low freeboard and an aluminum topsides structure . Hull form was generally box shaped, flat bottom, slab sites, flat deck, a simple raked bow and minimal watertight hull compartmentation.

I ended up with this job due to a partnership with my company which owned an offshore capable crane barge with a lift capacity of 550 metric tons. Our crane barge was mostly used in the marine salvage business and could easily pick a liftboat out of the water.

To say that I was horrified by the construction standards of this type of vessel was an understatement. There was no oversight of design or actual construction by any regulatory body at that time. I was put in a position of managing what I considered to be unsafe boats. As it turned out, the accident rate for liftboats was so great during the 80’s that the USCG proposed regulating them to the same standards as offshore drilling rigs. Not a single liftboat in operation at the time could come close to that standard. A lobbying body for the offshore community (the Offshore Marine Service Association, OMSA) proposed to the USCG that they be allowed to write the technical and operating standards for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which would become the CFR rules for this type of vessel. At the time the USCG budget was being tightened so they gladly accepted this offer. More than that, regulation of liftboats required study of some very technical elements that the USCG did not have the technical expertise to undertake. OMSA formed a technical committee to study the issue and propose the rules. I was appointed to the committee as one of 6 members. The other five members came either from other operating companies or designers of existing liftboats.

I won’t go into the politics of the deliberations other than to say I was outvoted on nearly every issue from construction specifications to manning requirements. Stability was completely ignored. The OMSA recommendations eventually became the USCG inspection requirements. The boats constructed there after became bigger and more sophisticated but the minimalistic construction, stability and operational requirements remain. USCG safety standards have improved requiring much sturdier lifesaving gear in the event of disaster. But little has been done to prevent the actual disaster from occurring.

During my career with that company and later with others in the marine salvage industry, I have been involved in the investigation or salvage of 10 sunken liftboats. Several have involved loss of life or significant injury.

Here are a few of my observations based on my experiences:

1). Crewing requirements are minimal. Boats are built to take advantage of admeasurement loopholes so that most liftboats have a grt of less that 100 tons. So the requirement is for a Master with a 100 ton license and two deckhands. Most times a cook is added to support contractor crews. This for a vessel that operates 24 hours a day. I do not know if this is the case for the boat in question but it is typical.

The remaining personnel that may be aboard are from contracting crews who are on board to perform oil industry related tasks and are using the liftboat as a platform for their equipment and a hotel for sleeping and eating. These contractors normally have no affiliation with the liftboat operators and are not considered crew.

Typically contractor crew do not ride on the liftboat to and from the offshore location. They are brought separately either by helicopter or crewboat. The fact that there was contractor crew on board the liftboat during the transit speaks to the suddenness or unpredicted nature of the storm that didn’t allow the oil company for whom they were working enough time to get them off before the boat had to make a run for it.

2) Liftboats cannot jack the boat out of the water in a greater than 3-4’ wave height. This is because the jacking speed is slow and for the critical time that the pads on the bottom of the legs are close to the sea floor, the rise and fall of the boat creates a slamming of the pads on the sea floor until such time as the boat is elevated above the sea and it’s buoyancy is no longer a factor. Attempting a jacking sequence in greater sea states always results in serious damage to the legs and jacking systems and has resulted in the catastrophic failure and collapse of the system in the past.

3) Remaining jacked up on site to ride out a storm may be risky also. If they are at a deep site, the leg extension may not provide enough air gap between the sea and hull bottom to prevent large waves slapping on the hull and knocking it over.

4) Lowering the legs to increase stability while underway is rarely feasible. Look at a chart of the Gulf of Mexico just south of Fourchon. Shallow water extends out more than 20 miles. When in high seas in shallow waters if you lower the legs even a little you run the risk of slamming the pads on to the bottom. See 2) above.

5) Stability is critical on liftboats. Raised legs decrease the stability significantly. Quite often the contractors equipment on deck is very heavy. This reduces stability even further. I have seen righting moments of less than 6” on vessels that really need 3’. Mostly this equipment is secured with truck chains and binders. If a piece breaks loose and is washed to one side, very bad things will happen. Another issue is the flat deck with no camber. This allows water to slosh back and forward placing strain on the securing. It is not safe to go out on deck when the sea is washing on board.

6). Low freeboard and no shaped bow plus no solid bulwark allows seas to wash over the deck in just a 4’ sea state. These vessels should never consider being underway in a sea state greater than 10’. It is a recipe for disaster.

All in all this tragedy was preventable but politics and corporate greed won out over solid engineering and good operational practice. I believe nearly all of the members of the OMSA committee have now passed, I was the youngest and am now 67. Now, the operators will cry out that they were in compliance with all applicable regulations and had recently passed a safety inspection. But the reality is, these machines should never been built in the first place.
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Old 04-17-2021, 09:41 PM   #15
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Ok. This is in my wheelhouse, so to speak, so I will try to make some cogent comments.

From 1983 through 1987 I was the general manager of a company that owned and operated six liftboats that were, at the time, the largest of the class. These boats, through a series of company acquisitions, are now in the Power Boat Rentals Fleet which itself is now part of Seacor. The capsized vessel in question was not one of these since it was built long after I left.

The first thing to realize is that when originally conceived and built, liftboats were much smaller and only worked in the bays and marshes that were the hub of the Louisiana oil industry. As the offshore fields developed, a company called Blue Streak Industries introduced a deep water version of the boats with 130’ leg lengths capable of operating in 60’ water depths. At the time there were no USCG rules for inspection of these vessels so they operated outside of the USCG certification process. They were built as lightly as possible so that they could be jacked up with fairly lightweight rack and pinion jacking systems. Making them lightweight generally meant 1/4” steel shell plating, widely spaced framing, shallow hull depth resulting in low freeboard and an aluminum topsides structure . Hull form was generally box shaped, flat bottom, slab sites, flat deck, a simple raked bow and minimal watertight hull compartmentation.

I ended up with this job due to a partnership with my company which owned an offshore capable crane barge with a lift capacity of 550 metric tons. Our crane barge was mostly used in the marine salvage business and could easily pick a liftboat out of the water.

To say that I was horrified by the construction standards of this type of vessel was an understatement. There was no oversight of design or actual construction by any regulatory body at that time. I was put in a position of managing what I considered to be unsafe boats. As it turned out, the accident rate for liftboats was so great during the 80’s that the USCG proposed regulating them to the same standards as offshore drilling rigs. Not a single liftboat in operation at the time could come close to that standard. A lobbying body for the offshore community (the Offshore Marine Service Association, OMSA) proposed to the USCG that they be allowed to write the technical and operating standards for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which would become the CFR rules for this type of vessel. At the time the USCG budget was being tightened so they gladly accepted this offer. More than that, regulation of liftboats required study of some very technical elements that the USCG did not have the technical expertise to undertake. OMSA formed a technical committee to study the issue and propose the rules. I was appointed to the committee as one of 6 members. The other five members came either from other operating companies or designers of existing liftboats.

I won’t go into the politics of the deliberations other than to say I was outvoted on nearly every issue from construction specifications to manning requirements. Stability was completely ignored. The OMSA recommendations eventually became the USCG inspection requirements. The boats constructed there after became bigger and more sophisticated but the minimalistic construction, stability and operational requirements remain. USCG safety standards have improved requiring much sturdier lifesaving gear in the event of disaster. But little has been done to prevent the actual disaster from occurring.

During my career with that company and later with others in the marine salvage industry, I have been involved in the investigation or salvage of 10 sunken liftboats. Several have involved loss of life or significant injury.

Here are a few of my observations based on my experiences:

1). Crewing requirements are minimal. Boats are built to take advantage of admeasurement loopholes so that most liftboats have a grt of less that 100 tons. So the requirement is for a Master with a 100 ton license and two deckhands. Most times a cook is added to support contractor crews. This for a vessel that operates 24 hours a day. I do not know if this is the case for the boat in question but it is typical.

The remaining personnel that may be aboard are from contracting crews who are on board to perform oil industry related tasks and are using the liftboat as a platform for their equipment and a hotel for sleeping and eating. These contractors normally have no affiliation with the liftboat operators and are not considered crew.

Typically contractor crew do not ride on the liftboat to and from the offshore location. They are brought separately either by helicopter or crewboat. The fact that there was contractor crew on board the liftboat during the transit speaks to the suddenness or unpredicted nature of the storm that didn’t allow the oil company for whom they were working enough time to get them off before the boat had to make a run for it.

2) Liftboats cannot jack the boat out of the water in a greater than 3-4’ wave height. This is because the jacking speed is slow and for the critical time that the pads on the bottom of the legs are close to the sea floor, the rise and fall of the boat creates a slamming of the pads on the sea floor until such time as the boat is elevated above the sea and it’s buoyancy is no longer a factor. Attempting a jacking sequence in greater sea states always results in serious damage to the legs and jacking systems and has resulted in the catastrophic failure and collapse of the system in the past.

3) Remaining jacked up on site to ride out a storm may be risky also. If they are at a deep site, the leg extension may not provide enough air gap between the sea and hull bottom to prevent large waves slapping on the hull and knocking it over.

4) Lowering the legs to increase stability while underway is rarely feasible. Look at a chart of the Gulf of Mexico just south of Fourchon. Shallow water extends out more than 20 miles. When in high seas in shallow waters if you lower the legs even a little you run the risk of slamming the pads on to the bottom. See 2) above.

5) Stability is critical on liftboats. Raised legs decrease the stability significantly. Quite often the contractors equipment on deck is very heavy. This reduces stability even further. I have seen righting moments of less than 6” on vessels that really need 3’. Mostly this equipment is secured with truck chains and binders. If a piece breaks loose and is washed to one side, very bad things will happen. Another issue is the flat deck with no camber. This allows water to slosh back and forward placing strain on the securing. It is not safe to go out on deck when the sea is washing on board.

6). Low freeboard and no shaped bow plus no solid bulwark allows seas to wash over the deck in just a 4’ sea state. These vessels should never consider being underway in a sea state greater than 10’. It is a recipe for disaster.

All in all this tragedy was preventable but politics and corporate greed won out over solid engineering and good operational practice. I believe nearly all of the members of the OMSA committee have now passed, I was the youngest and am now 67. Now, the operators will cry out that they were in compliance with all applicable regulations and had recently passed a safety inspection. But the reality is, these machines should never been built in the first place.
Great post and so appreciative you made it. Renee, the engineer who worked in the Gulf for the 18 months just read it and she said "damn, worse than I even thought." She has a masters in naval architecture and while never on a lift boat, just wondered how they could possibly be safe. Other crew members commented on them. But she never talked to anyone with the insight you have which at least confirms her instincts based on her limited knowledge of them. She's walking around the room cursing now in her combination of Valley Girl, Navy Daughter, Cal Maritime student, and 2.5 years of Cajun.
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Old 04-17-2021, 10:13 PM   #16
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Great post and so appreciative you made it. Renee, the engineer who worked in the Gulf for the 18 months just read it and she said "damn, worse than I even thought." She has a masters in naval architecture and while never on a lift boat, just wondered how they could possibly be safe. Other crew members commented on them. But she never talked to anyone with the insight you have which at least confirms her instincts based on her limited knowledge of them. She's walking around the room cursing now in her combination of Valley Girl, Navy Daughter, Cal Maritime student, and 2.5 years of Cajun.


Well Renee is much smarter than I am. She got out after a year and a half where as I stayed in the commercial shipping industry for forty years and have little to show for long hours and little sleep.

Plus she has a Master degree in NA. I only have an undergraduate degree. Although it is one of two, the other being Nautical Science.

I also curse a lot so we have that in common.
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Old 04-18-2021, 01:06 AM   #17
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Well Renee is much smarter than I am. She got out after a year and a half where as I stayed in the commercial shipping industry for forty years and have little to show for long hours and little sleep.

Plus she has a Master degree in NA. I only have an undergraduate degree. Although it is one of two, the other being Nautical Science.

I also curse a lot so we have that in common.
Renee is hilarious. Brilliant with undergrad at Cal Maritime and grad at U of New Orleans. She knew she wanted recreational but wanted to build sea time and license level quickly so committed to a year of commercial with Chouest and stayed for 18 months. They wanted her to stay longer but they called us and said she and we were just crazy enough for each other.

She can be the genius engineer or the flighty flirty Valley Girl. Also very athletic and she and her friend and co-worker Dena love to golf. Often with two of them some men about to golf will make it a foursome. They say clearly they don't want to bet. The men always insist. Very costly decision but they do generally buy the men lunch or dinner out of the winnings. Don't challenge her at pool either. As to language, she grew up mainly on the base in San Diego and spent all her spare time there always curious about boats. Little interest in her by her father. He just had to take her when her mother died. They were never married.

She enjoyed her commercial time and quickly won over the men crew who were skeptical at first. She took many extra runs for the sea time. She did say that it was a business that would age you fast, especially if you weren't young. A combination of the work with the conditions and even just the exposure to heat and wind and sun if you were on deck. She said many who worked 28 on and 28 off never took advantage of the off time to relax and unwind, but worked at other things. She has said she's glad to have seen it first hand and develop respect for what they all do.

Chouest was right. She and we are the right degree of crazy to work out together.
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