Do you remember the game of holding your breath in the bath when a child? The one that caused a look of horror on the face of a parent!
Well I tried something similar this week at the Offshore Training facility in Aberdeen, formerly and still known to the industry as RGIT. Before anyone is allowed offshore by helicopter to visit an oil or gas rig they have to undertake the safety course. This teaches what to do in circumstances where a helicopter ditches into the North Sea.
Ryan was our very able instructor and took us through the basics of lifejacket, survival suit and the breathing apparatus if the helicopter sinks or capsizes. Videos of the training regime then illustrated the points. But nothing quite prepares you for stripping off into swimming shorts, donning a survival suit and all the rest and then being taken into the two large swimming pools full of equipment including a fibreglass helicopter complete with seats and four-point seat belts.
The helicopter is then gently lowered by boom down onto the pool, and the participants escape through a door on to a liferaft. That bit was easy.
The next exercise was partial submersion where we held our breaths for seven seconds and then pulled our way out of the submerged helicopter and up to the surface. This exercise was then repeated with breathing apparatus and finally with plastic windows to simulate the real thing.
Again all was going well. However, the final exercise involved submerging the helicopter and then capsizing it under water. This meant that you were upside down, nose full of pool water, strapped into your seat and somewhat disorientated. Now that’s what I call training.
We did this a number of times with different scenarios that involved breathing under water, being aware of where other people were in the helicopter and learning to use the equipment.
Men and women who work offshore do a refresher course every four years. I can see why. What cannot be simulated in a swimming pool is the North Sea.
As I flew from Sumburgh to Aberdeen this week and watched the boiling seas crash into Sumburgh Head it did occur to me that finishing up in there would be a different kettle of fish entirely. As Ryan our instructor observed, that’s when the survival mode kicks in. Quite.
Tavish Scott MSP