Vessel Hatch Safety

Our client, a potential boat buyer, fell through an open hatch, hit his head and had to get stiches.
Anyone who has attended one of our surveys has heard our warning about open hatches. The client heard the warning before stepping through the hatch. We all make mistakes, luckily stiches were all he needed.
Hatches have to be open for various reasons, ideally nobody will be aboard to fall through the hole. But will somebody come aboard while you are in the engine room, how can you be sure?
On commercial vessels we often post a hatch watch when a hatch is opened, the hatch watch prevents people from falling through the open hatch. We usually survey with one person, and we cannot be the hatch watch and crawl through the engine room simultaneously. Thus, we give verbal warnings to everyone aboard and can only hope that new people do not come aboard while we are crawling in the below deck space. First point, make sure you announce to everyone aboard if you open a hatch, it usually works!
Another option is to provide a hatch barrier, the hatch itself can be left over the opening, sometimes it is shaped in such a way. I have seen utility companies bring their own barriers to install around open manholes, though I have not seen that done in our industry.
Hatches should be reinserted or closed after each use, even if it is more effort.
Additionally, the hatch itself should be stored with consideration of how it will move if the boat rocks. Hatches which are stored improperly can fall and cause harm or damage. Hatches on hinges should have ways to be secured in the open position. Hatches without hinges should not be set on edge where they can fall if the boat rocks and cause damage or harm, but rather in a secure way which can cause neither. The undersigned was once in the lazarette when the hatch he opened and was behind him, fell on its hinge and hit the back of his head. This impact was innocuous, but the flinch caused the front of the head to contact the hatch cut out and another trip to the urgent care to address a “boxer’s cut” above the eye. (I looked tough that night at a retirement party.)
The recent incident prompted this article and we hope this article prompts an increase in hatch safety on your boat.
In the age of easily accessible AI, I asked ChatGPT to write an article on vessel safety, we have attached a link to both articles if you are interested in the comparison.