Yacht Helicopter Operations

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I’d like to open this case study with a quote from a Pilot I worked with “A Helicopter – 300,000 parts and everyone is trying to destroy the other!”

The decision on whether a helideck is to be privately or commercially certified is a long, arduous process that stems all the way from the design phase.  Often, a fully compliant deck takes priority over aesthetics, as it is difficult to meet HCA (Helicopter Certifying Agency) safety standards and maintain the owners and architect’s wishes at the same time.  Consequently, most helidecks on yachts are designated as ‘touch-and-go’ private helidecks. The Private or Commercial argument aside, there are a number of other factors to consider when adding a helideck to the yacht, such as the location of the helideck in relation to liferafts, rescue boats, will it be lit for night time landings and deck fixings to name but a few.  Factoring in that the higher up the helideck, the more susceptible it will be to any roll experienced by the yacht. In an environment where space is limited there are also considerations to be made as to where emergency equipment, tie downs, covers, battery chargers, refueling rigs, railings, fire fighting equipment (Co2 and Dry Powder Extinguishers / Fire suits / BA Gear / Hoses / Foam branch) or fixed fire fighting installations, access ladders, crash kits, tools and rotor blade storage are all going to go!


Whilst the term ‘touch-and-go’ is utilised within the industry, it is worth noting that there is no formal recognition of such a helideck and Flag Administration is worded accordingly to identify the fact that it is not to be used in Commercial applications.  A memo Item is also added to the yacht’s classification records indicating that the arrangements do not comply with commercial standards. This limits the ‘touch-and-go’ helideck to private use only.  No charter helicopter would be allowed to take advantage of the helideck for obvious legislation and insurance infringements.


Regardless of whether the vessel has a compliant helideck or a private one, there should be some formal training in place.  The Captain and crew must be trained to cope and set in motion emergency protocols, in the event that should something goes wrong.  Because when it does, it goes horribly wrong and it doesn’t take too many YouTube searches to prove this point!


Commercially operated yachts with a helideck will require crew be trained in firefighting and rescue under IMO SOLAS regulations.  All crew will need to maintain their HLO and HDA qualifications where the standard period between revalidation is 2 years with refresher training suggested annually as well as regular (at least every 6 months) training and drilling onboard.


OPITO (Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organization) and MCA (Maritime and Coast guard Agency) accredited training will comprise of HDA – Heli Deck Assistant; HLO – Helicopter Landing Officer; RO – Radio Operator; Helicopter Refueling and HUET – Helicopter Underwater Escape Training.

Onboard training will almost certainly include an assessment of the helicopter, landing area and emergency equipment to assist in the formulation of an onboard operations manual and procedures.

Commercial certification of the helicopter landing area will be required by a Certification agency which may limit operations to maximum wind speeds due to type of landing surface or available equipment, safe approach areas due to Rotor-strike hazards and Helicopter types (Max rotor length; take-off weight etc.) to name but a few.

In addition to the training and certification of the helideck, the vessel will most likely require a permit to utilize the helicopter – depending on the waters it is operating in.

Periodic helideck maintenance will also be necessary, such as having the AFFF (Aqueous Film Forming Foam) tested in fixed and portable installations. Commercial helidecks are required to be audited every two years to maintain their Helicopter Landing Area Certificate.  Whilst the audit isn’t required for Private helidecks, it is recommended.

Lastly depending on the Flag State, they may want to see proof of the above before helicopter operations may be carried out including Insurance and sufficient 3rd party cover.


West Nautical have two trained and certified HLO’s in their yacht management department, and we have two vessels with purpose built helidecks. We have dealt with numerous training scenarious, Flag State and insurance inquiries and offer consultancy services within these fields, as well as expert advice to the yachts under our management with helicopter capabilities.


Written by:

Shaun Moore

Yacht Manager (HDA; HLO; RO on M/Y Pelorus; M/Y WhiteCloud and M/Y Kogo)