Gangway – Boarding Accidents

Based on data from the Mariner Safety Research Initiative, gangways are a major source of maritime accidents. The initiative, a collaboration between the American Bureau of Shipping and Lamar University, found that 62 percent of gangway-related incidents (injuries/fatalities) occur while boarding a vessel. The most common reasons are slips and trips that don’t have a particular cause. These represented 38 percent of accidents involving an injury or fatality while boarding. Other factors include improper use of gangways, movement of the structure, equipment failures, and improper installation. Some people have even been caught between ladders and gangways.

The hazards to workers include falling off the structure, or associated ladders, or the structural failure of a gangway. Employees may also be injured during its installation or removal. Materials and cargo may also strike workers as they board the vessel.

Potential Accident Causes

Issues that can lead to gangway problems include stressed components, such as warping, damaged hinge pins, and cracked structural members that can lead to collapse. Rail problems can be a concern too; just releasing a jammed rail can cause a worker to fall backward and possibly go overboard. Ladder issues can involve hoist winch gearboxes, which can cause telescopic structures to fall suddenly and injure employees and others. A lack of fall prevention equipment or life jackets can worsen such situations.


It is possible to prevent many gangway/boarding accidents. Some of the measures that can be taken include:

  • Removing hazards from ladder and deck approaches, enabling people to safely board and leave the vessel.
  • Placing portable steps when there are height differences between the deck and ladder, and warning notices should be placed where there are variations.
  • Using bulwark ladders between decks and gangways, and fencing off gaps between both.
  • Illuminating access areas with either permanent or portable lighting.
  • Positioning boarding systems away from cargo transport and work areas.
  • Avoiding securing a gangway to the guard rails of a ship.
  • Ensuring access structures stay within design limits regarding angle of inclination.

Regular monitoring by a designated crew member ensures any problems are identified and can be corrected before an accident occurs. Periodic inspection and maintenance are important as well. Signs of damage or corrosion should be addressed quickly, for gangways, ladders, lifting equipment, hoist wires, and any moving parts. Control components must be checked and tested for proper operation too, as malfunctions can trigger serious accidents that are preventable.

Maritime workers aren’t the only people at risk for gangway or boarding related accidents. In July 2010, a cruise ship passenger in Genoa, Italy was killed by a gangway collapse and, in 2016, the Carnival Pride hit a gangway on a fast approach in Baltimore. The structure fell and crushed three vehicles, although no one was injured. The incidents do demonstrate the potential for injury and damage from accidents that involve boarding systems. Equipment malfunctions, control failures, and human error can be possible factors in any such incident, and expose vessel operators to liability if anyone is injured, disabled, or killed as a result of such an event.

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