Captain Micah David Faust Allnutt
SV Highlander Sea
Port Huron, MI 48060
Greetings and salutations to you all,
First understand that I am not coming from a position of exclusion. My first cousin was born with CP. Having spent much of my first 25 years of life with and/or near my cousin, Demra, and her friends from the “community”, I am familiar with and sensitive to the issues and concerns of the disabled/challenged community. Since 1988 I have worked on sailing vessels. From 1990 I have worked exclusively in the sail training/experiential education arena. I am part of the ASTA membership Captain Lou Linden referred to in his January 10th hearing testimony, that has made the effort to facilitate access to, and participation in the excursion and educational sailing experience.
When I refer to persons with disabilities I am
including a wide range of people with developmental
challenges. Maintaining the safety of vessel, crew,
and participants on a working sailing vessel requires
constant vigilance under the best of circumstances.
Mental, emotional, and physical impairments with all
their range and variety bring with them serious inherent strain in the already present risk factors of our vocation. For many of us the joy and awe of the experience shared with any participant, but in this case the disabled participant, is worth the extra measures we must employ to orchestrate safe participation aboard. Not many captains and/or crews have experience in facilitating the mobility impaired on a sailing ship, and it is they who are responsible for the safety of life and limb and therefore must be comfortable with the environment they are in charge of and not impaired in the performance of their duties.
Traditionally rigged vessels are a challenge to sail!
This is what makes them an ideal learning platform.
It is the same qualities that can make the sailing ship a dangerous place to inhabit, much less visit.
We are harnessing the natural elements to power tons of wood, steel, canvass, and precious cargo (our
passengers and participants), through a dynamic, and fickle environment. One often hears of Murphy’s Laws…”what can go wrong, will go wrong.” As sailors we spend a fair percentage of our time fortifying
ourselves against crises we hope will never befall us.
USCG regulation of vessels engaged in commercial trade have evolved through, and out of sad accounts of ships ill prepared, or ill informed of the ramifications of changes to the physical ship, or to operational protocol (Tall Ships Down, by Daniel Parrot, is a well written account of five examples of ships lost that influenced the regulation of the sail training sector. I include sail training vessels in my discussion as many T-Boats focus a large percentage of their trade on education). Anyone not intimately familiar with a given ships particular characteristics and program is ill equipped and unqualified to impose design alterations and changes in operational protocols. Bob Zales, II, president of the National Association of Charter Boat Operators in his hearing testimony on January 10th, 2005 mirrors many of the concerns that sprung up in my mind with regards to effect of the ADA alteration proposals on vessel stability and adherence to USCG safety standards.
Again, I am not trying to extricate the small passenger vessel from the process. I am just trying to emphasize the fact that the goal the ADA is working to achieve can not be reasonably accommodated by a universal standard applied to all vessels in a given category. As each vessel, especially of the traditional rig type, is a unique entity. I am advocating that the spirit of these proceedings be embraced by the individual ships and organizations in question, and that the mandates of the ‘regulations of access’ be worded and enforced in such a manner as to allow for the variety and ingenuity of the vessels and crews involved. The methods and gear used would be approved on an individual basis with design, materials, and technique outlined and submitted by the vessels owners. I presume the USCG would be charged with administering compliance, and would be in the best position to oversee and evaluate the impact of access alterations on stability, down flooding, and overall safety.
Captain Lou Linden’s figures reported a rather small percentage of mobility impaired persons requiring accommodation by our fleet. Even if the argument is followed that if access is made easier resulting in more persons with disabilities participating, I will contend that the figures would not increase dramatically as the nature of the programs offered on a majority of the vessels under scrutiny are of a physically demanding nature. In our line of work, a part of the requirements we must meet include passing a periodic physical, so comes the term and title “able bodied seaman”.
More often than not, participants and volunteers are expected to work in nearly the same manner as the crew…they are generally on board to learn what we know. To accomplish this they must be treated, and perform, much like the crew does, under close crew scrutiny of course. Again, my main point comes to surface again in that the nature of what the ASTA boats do by its very nature attracts a particular sector of the population that tend to be adventure seeking, physically able and active individuals. In the cases where a person, or group of people, who are mobility impaired have shown interest in and a desire to participate, on the vessels on which I have served, and others I have heard of, provision has been made to accommodate them aboard and integrate them in to the program. But to go to the extreme of altering a vessel’s structural fabric, putting the vessel, and therefore the crew and passengers at greater risk, to me is lightly described as ill advised.
I have not yet read anyone address the topic of the lawfully imposed responsibility of the Captain for the safety of the ship and passengers, and in the latitude a captain must be afforded in making on the spot decisions as to whether or not to sail due to prevailing conditions or condition of ship, to whether or not an individual, or group poses a threat to the well being of the ship and/or the best interests of the ship’s owner. Nor has the practical and pivotal topic of emergency response been fully addressed with relation to individual passenger’s ability to fulfill their personal roles and duties during the various emergency scenarios we as mariners drill for on a regular basis. By regulation, economic, and space limitations, each vessel in manned with as few crew as can safely operate said vessel with regard to its size, route, and purpose. To hire more crew would become an economic burden, and further limit the spaces available for passengers. In crisis response, no crew member is with out crucial duties to perform in service of the ship and passengers. If a flooding situation, or a fire emergency were to occur with wheelchair bound person(s) below deck, or even lashed to the deck, in the best case scenario they would have brought with them able bodied assistance to help them with, or without, their wheelchair to a place of safety, and possibly off the ship into a life raft, or at least to a more protected location, in appropriate response to the nature of the emergency. Unsettling and alarming is the possibility that the officers and crew in question are then forced to spread there efforts even further as they battle the emergency, manage the passenger’s safety, attend to any injured, and now must compromise the limited human resource further in the effort to quell the threat to life and limb to transport individuals for whom the ship, by it adherence to accepted sea going design standards (and/or as a vessel of historic origin), is not adapted to the needs of the disabled. In fact, even if a vessel is able to reconfigure to allow for free movement of wheelchairs and others with varying mobility impairments, the regular motion of the vessel, or the position the ship finds itself in given rough seas, grounding, or some other unforeseen circumstance, could be un-navigable by the population in question regardless of the alterations implemented to come into compliance. If, God forbid, a person in a wheelchair were to go overboard, even with the approved personal flotation device donned properly, they would sink! To maintain special PFD’S that would float a person and their wheelchair would be cost and space prohibitive, not to mention that the variety of wheelchair design and weight points to the development of custom equipment, which I have yet to have seen introduced in the marine field. Granted I am considering worst case scenarios here, which is part of my job as a captain: to be prepared for the worst, and hope for the best.
Beyond the USCG I do not have an answer towards determining who would oversee individual vessel compliance to a recommendation of guidelines. I am convinced though that if a sweeping set of criteria is imposed on the sail training community operating within the Sub C and T categories, many vessels will cease to operate on grounds of economic unfeasibility in regards to the programs they run and the resources they have to implement mandated provisions, as well as the basic fact that, to fully comply with the access needs of the disabled community, serious consequence results in the stability and safety characteristics of sea going vessels.
Bob Zales, of the NACBO summed up the structural stability concerns well, and echoes many mariners’ misgivings beyond mine. As a rule ships are built to a purpose and those of us who sail upon them are expected to adapt to our vessel, not the other way around. Much of the regulation of the sail training vessels working in R as well as C and T-boat classes has been largely influenced through the post mortem investigations unfortunate catastrophe. Significant, and sometimes minor, changes in structure and/or of function of one vessel for use in different routes and/or trade than originally intended, has resulted in loss of lives and ships. Such specifics as tie downs in open program spaces, such as to one side or the other of a main deck, can leave a secured participant at risk of being in harms way of running rigging, be in a position of obstruction of crew access to working the ship, and possibly be ill positioned in such an extreme and unfortunate event as a knock down. Opening and or narrowing deck configurations and below deck spaces can upset the already delicate balance of compromises that have resulted in a seaworthy ship, and make her a hazard to those on and near her.
I know of only two large sailing vessels built specifically to accommodate participants in wheelchairs, the Lord Nelson, and the Tenacious, both English flagged, and reportedly both successful. These vessels though are quite a bit larger than 95% of the American sail training fleet, and were by design built with disabled participants in mind. There are organizations that have focused their energies on facilitating the sailing experience for persons with disabilities, providing opportunity and technology designed accommodate the needs of wheelchair bound individuals, and provide for their safety while out on the water on small craft. My point here is that these vessels are ‘built to a purpose’, from inception and design, to construction and use. To require vessels currently in service already engaged in a delicate balance of economic survival to retrofit to meet the demands proposed by the ADA will result in a majority of these vessels having to retire, and their owners and operators to seek alternate careers. The only way to do service to either side of this issue is to deal with each vessel on an individual basis! Not just ship size but type of program, route, and design particulars must be evaluated before making a determination of the best course of action to facilitate access to the vessels in question. I contend that the individual organizations and operators are the best qualified, and the best equipped to meet the challenge of access to their particular vessel.
‘There are many ways to skin a cat’, they say. If you allow for professional and personal liability inherent in operating under a USCG issued license, then it goes to reason that it is in every captain’s best interest to make sure that each and every one of his passengers and crew are safely provided for. The aims of the ADA would best be served by allowing each ship to answer to the details of access to their respective vessels as well as those that work the vessel, and their representatives, would be best equipped to determine how best to make provisions aboard their vessel for ADA compliance. It makes more sense to me for a ship operator to receive training/orientation to the needs of the physically impaired and apply that training to their vessel, than for an ADA representative with no seafaring experience to adapt their expertise to such a specialized environment. Alterations to the vessel, in many cases, will be prohibitive. Access to the whole ‘program area’ will be impossible on many ships in the routine course of program delivery. In my experience flexibility needs to be exhibited by both participant and ship to tailor a given program to the needs of the mobility impaired. Provisions can be made to move lesson sites to better accommodate a person of limited mobility, in some cases. In a number of instances persons were either carried by chaperones, or assisted by a crew member, through the rotation of ‘stations’. Ultimately open discussion with the participant, or their responsible party, to assess the extent of their abilities aids the crew in adapting program delivery to the circumstances, even better if the office is notified in advance to allow for pre-planning, but often their overall experience will be abridged.
Other than a facility and program specifically tailored for the impaired such as the Lord Nelson, which includes not only the space arrangements, the teaching materials and more staff, and properly trained staff, the experience will have to be negotiated on a case by case basis. That is to say, since the percentage of mobile impaired persons participating on sail training vessels not specifically built to the purpose is small, the proposed participant should bear the responsibility of contacting the ship in question in order to allow for preparation time in accommodating his, her, or their needs. The expectation that a majority of the working vessels must be ‘on the ready’ at all times to receive and cater to the needs of the rare mobility impaired participant is unreasonable. On the other hand, the expectation that the operators of a given vessel will make the extra effort to afford access to those mobility impaired individuals who desire to participate in the seagoing experience is quite reasonable and, in my experience many are willing and able to rise to the task of solving the challenges of facilitating that portion of the disabled community which express the desire to partake of the sailing experience, but in their own way. That is to say, in the manner that best suites the characteristics of their particular vessel, and not all vessel of the same size, or even same ‘design’ will find the same solutions viable. In fact, some vessels will be out right unsuitable to meet the demands of the challenge.
Navigating through a given vessel safely and more fully participate in the program offered, as well as facilitate self preserving response to the general alarm, when and if sounded, most readily takes the form of more able bodied chaperones, or more hired hands aboard the ship. Due to economics, more crew will ultimately mean hire participation costs, which either manifests as a more exclusivity ( but based now on ‘class’, rather than physical limitation ), or in lost income due to the loss of passenger space, greater operating costs, and diminished sales.
Perhaps we, as the community about to be regulated even further, should be allowed provision to require of those individuals, or groups, who have some variety of special need, to supply themselves with the additional aid their special circumstance requires of them. This, combined with each vessel’s self generated, custom tailored solution to the matter of accessibility will, I emphatically believe, result in the best functional compromise toward the goal of inclusion of the mobility impaired on T-Boats engaged in sail training/education on the water, preservation of vessel safety, and economic survival of many of the vessels to be effected by this act.
I was only made aware of the application of the ADA to sailing vessels a couple of days ago. Oddly enough this topic has not been a subject of discourse in the sail training community, that I have been privy to. So, I extend my apologies for the last minute timing and finish of this essay.
I am available for further discussion and questions with regards to the topic at hand, and can be reached most readily via the following mobile number: [phone] (not limited to regular business hours). As well, my contact address is listed above.
Thank you for the opportunity to contribute my comments on this matter,
Captain Micah David Faust Allnutt