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Health & Safety at SEA

About SEA

Health & Safety at SEA

Risk Management Philosophy

Sea Education Association (SEA) and its associated programs fully recognize the significant responsibility for training and housing young people at our campus in Woods Hole, MA and for taking them to sea. Since 1971, SEA has continuously and thoughtfully honed its safety policies and procedures to minimize risk to program participants and personnel while achieving programmatic goals. While we take pride in our safety record, SEA regularly monitors and assesses our personnel qualifications, training practices, safety policies, and material condition of our equipment to maintain safety as a priority within our programs and operations. We operate under a philosophy of prevention but prepare for and are capable of a broad spectrum of response.

Safety Policy

The safety of all SEA program participants and staff is among our highest priorities. To this end, SEA maintains a philosophy of prevention in managing risk in its activities. SEA is committed to not exposing students, staff or others to undue risk either ashore or at sea. This is accomplished by an ongoing assessment of risk for activities either ashore or at sea. Recognizing that its programs involve risks that are inherent and unavoidable, SEA applies accepted safety management principles in developing and documenting appropriate policies, procedures and practices in an effort to reduce risk to a level that is “as low as reasonably practicable” (ALARP) consistent with SEA’s mission.

SEA’s commitment to safety includes all facets of its operations, particularly the design and operation of the ships, their ongoing maintenance, selection and ongoing training of the crew, and shoreside support. SEA strives for continual safety improvement and ensures that all accidents and incidents are thoroughly investigated and analyzed; that lessons learned are communicated to staff; and that policies, procedures and practices are modified accordingly.

Student Policies

SEA is an academic community dedicated to the pursuit of intellectual and personal growth. We are committed to creating and maintaining a learning environment in which individuals are responsible for their actions and for the impact of their actions on others.

To that end, we provide students with policies to best support their well being and success while enrolled in SEA Semester, including:

  • Code of Conduct;
  • Drug & Alcohol Policy;
  • Academic Integrity Policy;
  • Sexual Harassment/Sexual Discrimination Policy.

Other documents and forms to help us assess and manage risk include:

  • Student Contract;
  • Medical Record;
  • Preliminary Medical Accommodations;
  • Health Insurance Verification.

Medical Screening & Clearance Process

Participation in SEA Semester is contingent upon medical clearance. The foundation of a successful SEA Semester program begins with the medical screening and clearance process. All students are required to undergo a thorough physical examination performed by a licensed medical practitioner within three months of the start of the program. Additionally, we ask that students disclose all medical information directly related to their ability to perform essential duties as required by our program structure at sea.

We do this not to discourage applicants or limit the number of students who can participate in SEA Semester, but rather to best enable our faculty and staff to provide an appropriate learning environment both on shore and at sea. With adequate lead-time, SEA can frequently facilitate appropriate risk management for a wide variety of preexisting medical conditions. We work with every student on an individual basis to assess whether his or her participation in an at-sea program can occur safely and effectively.

Student Orientations

Every SEA Semester program includes three phases of student orientation:

  • general program orientation upon arrival in Woods Hole;
  • sea component orientation at the close of the shore component; and
  • shipboard orientation during the first 24 hours of the sea component.

Programs begin with a welcome orientation and reception for students and their families on our Woods Hole residential campus, where most students spend the first portion of their program (two summer programs excluded). Orientation topics include: faculty and student introductions; academic expectations; and SEA policies including academic integrity, drug/alcohol use (including a reminder that students have entered the regulatory environment of the U.S. Coast Guard), harassment, and exclusive relationships.

A second orientation concludes the shore component and prepares students specifically for the second portion of the program: the sea component. This orientation covers topics including health, safety, and security while traveling abroad; shipboard expectations; the changing roles and responsibilities of students and faculty from shore to sea; community living at sea; and communication with families and friends.

The final orientation phase introduces students to the ship once they arrive for the sea component. There is a comprehensive orientation to all departments of shipboard life, including multiple safety drills for at least the first 24 hours of any program. Safety drills are also conducted at least once per week while the students are at sea.

Finally, every port stop at sea is prefaced by a group discussion to touch on topics including the shore itinerary, a safety & risk management briefing, and cultural norms and expectations.

Health & Safety: On Shore in Woods Hole

During the initial program orientation, students receive a handbook specific to the shore component that covers information on emergency procedures, contact information, and communications. It also sets forth the numerous SEA policies and procedures which students are required to understand and abide by.

While on campus in Woods Hole, Student Services staff and the on-site Head Resident are available for minor First Aid as well as transportation and escort to nearby medical facilities. Falmouth Hospital and a nearby walk-in clinic provide additional medical support to our students.

On shore, all students live on campus in our private cottages, which are supervised by the Head Resident. Their behavior is monitored regularly and must meet our established code of conduct. Faculty and staff work closely with the students to build a living and learning community that is prepared to meet programmatic challenges on shore and at sea.

Health & Safety: In the Field

All SEA-sponsored field excursions – whether operating from our campus in Woods Hole, one of our ships, or a remote shore location – are guided by the following best practices.

In selecting field trip activities and destinations, trip leaders consider both the pedagogical and logistical impacts of the activity. The designated trip leader is responsible for filing a written field trip plan with the Associate Dean for Student Services prior to the field trip date.

Health & Safety: Mosquito-Borne Illnesses

Several mosquito-borne illnesses are endemic throughout the regions in which our ships operate. Dengue, Malaria, Chikungunya and Zika virus are all known to be present in regions of the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean in which we navigate.

For the majority of students' sea component—when the ship is underway or offshore—students will not be troubled by mosquitoes. They stay close to shore and breed only in fresh water. But when the ship is in port, students' risk of contracting a mosquito-borne illness is elevated.

To limit their exposure, students must bring an adequate supply of insect repellent. Insect repellants containing DEET have long been the preferred method to deter mosquitos. There are also now a few botanically-based repellants that are recognized as being effective, but which must be applied at frequent intervals. Learn more on the CDC website.

Students should also consider packing and wearing long, loose clothing on arms & legs, even in tropical regions, since a physical barrier is the most effective way to prevent mosquito bites.

Mosquito netting is available aboard the ships and screens have been installed on openings to the below-deck area of the ship.

While malaria-carrying mosquitos historically feed at dawn and dusk, we now know that there is no safe time of the day to be near mosquitoes without a physical or chemical barrier. Dengue, chikungunya and Zika are all carried by mosquitos the feed throughout the daylight hours and overnight. 

Zika is primarily of concern to women who are, or who plan soon to become pregnant. However, it is important for all of our students, faculty and staff to understand the risks both of contracting the virus and of unwittingly spreading it. For your safety and in the interest of global health, it is imperative that you exercise appropriate mosquito prophylaxis.

The Zika illness itself is typically mild and many carriers will be asymptomatic (80% of those infected may never have symptoms), but the World Health Organization has determined that it is spreading “explosively” and will have an impact worldwide. While students may not currently be trying to conceive, the majority of people aboard SEA ships are women of childbearing age so we ask that everyone on board be mindful of risks and use appropriate prophylaxis. Likewise at the conclusion of a program, students will each return to a hometown that probably is, and certainly hopes to remain, Zika-free. Throughout students' enrollment at SEA Semester, we will encourage them to actively protect themselves and the broader community from these viruses.

Please contact SEA Student Services if you have questions or would like more information.

Health & Safety: At Sea

Safety is among our highest priorities on every voyage, every day. At sea, the staff to student ratio is approximately 1:2. Our professional staff receives safety and medical training and performs regular drills (see more in the “Training” section, below). SEA owns and operates the SSV Corwith Cramer and the SSV Robert C. Seamans, both custom designed and uniquely built educational platforms. Unlike some other programs that take students to sea, our ships are U.S. flagged, inspected, and regulated vessels, and have been designed and built specifically for SEA with student and crew safety foremost in mind.

Our ships are United States Coast Guard (USCG) certified and regularly inspected for ocean service. In addition, they are inspected by the American Bureau of Shipping and meet or exceed ABS’ stringent machinery and hull safety standards. As U.S. flagged Sailing School Vessels (SSVs), our ships are required to meet safety standards different from those for passenger vessels on a comparable route.

The SSV Corwith Cramer and SSV Robert C. Seamans meet or exceed the safety requirements for their USCG and ABS class designations and possess all required equipment for navigation and emergency situation response. The Corwith Cramer carries one category I 406 EPIRB and one category I 406 GPIRB, as well as three 20-person life rafts. Each life raft is equipped with one 406 GPS PLB. The Robert C. Seamans carries two category 1 406 GPIRBs, as well as three 25-person life rafts. Each life raft is equipped with one 406 GPS PLB.

As with other areas of safety, medical care at sea is heavily biased towards prevention. Students receive ample reminders of the need for adequate hygiene, sun protection, nutrition, and hydration. Both ships carry simple medical kits and are assigned a designated medical officer. The ship’s captain and designated medical officer review each oncoming student’s medical form, communicating with the staff at Woods Hole Headquarters to stay abreast of student health issues.

Both ships maintain 24-hour access to a network of physicians specially trained to provide remote medical care & advice. Our medical response plans include use of MedAire (a subsidiary of International SOS) and Divers Alert Network (DAN)’s TravelAssist program, which arranges emergency medical evacuations for any medical emergency and offers many other medical, travel, and legal benefits. SEA’s DAN membership also allows us access to resources such as Worldcue® PLANNER health, safety, and security briefs, powered by iJET Intelligent Risk Systems, for regions of the globe in which SEA Semester operates.

A Safety Management System governs the operation of SEA vessels and programs aboard those vessels. Emergency drills are conducted weekly when underway and recorded in the deck logbook as per USCG requirements.

SEA Semester cruise tracks are planned well in advance to optimize program objectives, and are based on seasonal weather patterns, sea conditions, oceanographic research clearances and port calls visited. First and foremost, we consider weather; our cruise track selection and timing reflects strict adherence to predictable heavy weather avoidance.

Training

SEA takes a leadership role in the world of sail training regulation, and championed the creation of the legal classification that our ships now fall under, that of Sailing School Vessel (SSV). As such, our students are considered crewmembers and are expected to act accordingly, with associated education and training to be an active part of the risk prevention and response team.

As an organization, SEA voluntarily subjects itself to external and internal safety audits. We hold professional safety training forums on emergency systems, heavy weather avoidance, and other pertinent topics.

SEA also offers training classes open to mariners, aspiring mariners, and outdoor educators interested in advancing their skills. These U.S. Coast Guard approved courses are offered to SEA faculty, staff, and crew as well as to other interested parties. Current training courses include: Leadership and Managerial Skills; Wilderness First Responder (WFR); Wilderness First Responder Recertification (WFR-Recert); Bridge Resource Management; and Basic Safety Training.

Communication

SEA headquarters maintains a 24-hour emergency contact system and is in daily contact with our ships at sea. On shore in Woods Hole, each student cottage maintains a landline telephone. Extension numbers are provided with housing assignments when students arrive. Students also have full access to the campus’s wireless network, and cell phone usage is permitted.

While at sea, shipboard communications include high seas radio, satellite telephones, and limited email capability. Both vessels carry at least one SSB radio; a Thrane & Thrane Sailor 250 FleetBroadband (FBB) Inmarsat for data and voice communications; an Inmarsat C.; and an Iridium Satellite Phone.

Each ship maintains a daily satellite telephone schedule with SEA Headquarters in Woods Hole. SEA also uses Pole Star Fleet Management 2.0, a powerful web-based service that automatically tracks our vessels in real time. This service supports an automated position report of each vessel every six hours. Data sent from the ships includes course, speed, and meteorological data including weather, wind speed and direction, and sea state.

This information is automatically embedded on the SEA website for both ships: Corwith Cramer (Mediterranean/Atlantic/Caribbean) and Robert C. Seamans (Pacific).

International Resources

SEA Headquarters in Woods Hole constantly monitors world events for possible impacts on any SEA Semester program. Information is received daily from a number of sources on a number of topics including:

Travel, Health and Safety

Weather

Risk Management & Emergency Response