Select Page

In order to stay safe at sea, we need to know the risks we are facing and to be aware of any personal dangers we could possibly encounter. Here are six of the most common potential dangers individual crew members should be aware of.

safety at sea sea sickness sea-sickness seasickness

1. Fatigue, seasickness and hypothermia

Fatigue, seasickness and hypothermia may be encountered individually, but they can also frequently occur together, often with each element helping to feed the others. Each can be debilitating on their own, impairing decision-making ability and eliminating any enthusiasm for deck work.

Fatigue is easily avoided by getting ample sleep before sailing and through taking ample periods of time off watch on a longer passage. It’s also important to have adequate hydration and nutrition, both of which are all too frequently neglected when under way. The latter is doubly important for those who normally live a sedate desk-bound life – on a yacht by mid afternoon you may already have used as many calories as during the whole of a normal day, which can result in blood sugar low unless you’re eating more than usual.

Safety at Sea sunburn

 2. Sunburn and sunstroke

It always feels colder afloat than onshore so sunburn and sunstroke are easily underestimated on the water, especially in breezy conditions. Also, there’s more glare and reflection when on the water. You therefore need to take these risks seriously, making sure you use plenty of sunscreen and remain well hydrated. Watch out for potential problems among fellow crew – the initial signs are much easier for someone else to see than to self diagnose.

3. Dinghies

The dangers inherent in using a dinghy to get ashore from a mooring or anchorage are all too easily underestimated. Many more sailors are lost from their tenders, or when transferring between dinghy and yacht, than are lost at sea.

Lifejackets should be worn and you also need a bullet-proof means of signalling distress in the event of problems. When getting in and out of a dinghy tie it to the yacht or dock with both bow and stern lines – this will prevent the tender swinging away from the yacht, which is the most common reason for people falling between the two.

As always, try to predict changing conditions. An apparently benign trip ashore on a sunny evening may turn into a completely different situation if the wind is forecast to strengthen and the tide will be ebbing fast when you return to the boat.

4. Head injuries from the boom or mainsheet

Head injuries from an accidental gybe have the potential to be one of the most serious dangers of all, and is capable of inflicting life changing injury. It’s important that everyone on board is aware of the danger, especially the hazard zone for boats with cockpit mounted mainsheet systems. As well as pointing this out in initial briefings, the skipper must also ensure everyone’s safety is assured during a planned gybe.

However, it’s accidental gybes that lead to the majority of incidents. Given that by definition an accidental gybe is an unplanned event, at first sight it might appear difficult to guard against this danger. However it’s possible to ensure that accidental gybes never happen when sailing downwind if the helm is properly trained, fully in control and the crew remain alert.

5. Falling overboard

Falling overboard has the potential to be one of the most frightening and life-threatening experiences that can be encountered at sea. The old cliché that prevention is better than cure is particularly apt for MOB situations and it’s crucial to give thought to making certain everyone stays on board. Harness discipline is vital and crew members should be encouraged to build up a constant awareness of potential dangers, as well as looking out for other people, especially those who are less experienced. If the worst happens, wearing a properly-fitted lifejacket with a crotch strap can multiply survival times 10-15 fold, especially if it’s fitted with a spray hood and light.

6. Crushing fingers in a winch

The loads encountered on modern yachts are all too easily under estimated. For instance the genoa sheets of a 10 metre cruising boat may carry well in excess of half a tonne – a level that must be handled with care. Therefore all crew members should be briefed in good line-handling discipline, including how to add and remove turns from the winch drum, how to safely ease or release the sheet and so on. Anchor windlasses also need to be treated with similar respect.

Getting a tow for your sail or power boat at sea or on inland waterways

FREE tips from the Safe Skipper App for iPhone/iPad/Android: Getting a tow for your sail or power boat Plan how to secure a...

Competent crew skills: arriving and leaving a berth

Skilled boat handling is needed when entering or leaving harbour. Crew tasks include preparing the mooring lines and fenders before docking and...

Jester Challenge 2022 – Sailing single handed from Plymouth UK to the Azores: Part 3 – Preparations

Jester Challenge – A modern experiment in old-fashioned self-reliance, self sufficiency, and personal responsibility. This is the third of a 10-part post where solo sailor, Bernie Branfield, shares his first hand account of his single-handed, 2022 Jester Challenge, from Plymouth, UK to the Azores, in his 26′ Invicta Mk2, Louisa.

Hourly Checks when sailing or motoring

  Hourly Checks Get into the habit of carrying out these checks and both yourself, your crew and your boat will be...

Rig check – how to prevent failure at sea

Regular rig checks prevent the risk of mast and rigging failure at sea. This includes regular rig inspections of the spars, ...

Keel design – options to consider when choosing a yacht

Keel design is constantly evolving and nowhere is this more apparent than in modern racing yachts such as the Imoca Open 60...

Fire safety advice at sea from the Marine & Coastguard Agency

Fire safety advice for boaters Top fire safety advice at sea: 1. Fit smoke alarms, carbon monoxide and gas detectors 2. Turn...

What boating skills should you have before you buy a yacht?

Many people dream of owning a yacht and sailing off into the blue yonder. What boating skills should you have before you buy...

Stern gear maintenance

The stern gear of a boat needs to be checked carefully when the boat is ashore as this is something that can only be done when it is out of the water. The same applies for any maintenance and repairs that may need doing, so it is best to check it all over as soon after an end of season lift out as possible.

Boat electrics

All boat owners should have a basic knowledge of electrics, both to avoid encountering electrical problems at sea and to stand a chance of solving them should they occur.

Sailboat rig checks – Part 2

In part two of Sail boat rig checks we run through some useful rig maintenance tips and then finish with a brief look at what a professional rig check involves.

Boat Engine Safety Checks

  Boat Engine Safety Checks Every skipper needs to make regular essential boat engine safety checks. Below you will...

Safety Briefings – leave nothing to chance

Before giving your crew a safety briefing, it is worth considering the specific circumstances of the planned trip, the...

First aid at sea – four common emergencies

In this blog we look at what to do in the event of a crew member choking, drowning, or suffering from hypothermia or fatigue. Knowing how to cope with them could well save a life, while not knowing could result in an avoidable tragedy.

Sailing Boat Rig Care

The rig of a sailing boat is put under huge stresses and strains so it is important for inspections of a yacht’s spars and rigging to be carried out at regular intervals.

Boat ownership

Owning a boat is a big commitment that should bring no end of satisfaction for the owner as well as the owner's family and friends. In...

Boat interior varnishing

Most boat interiors have a combination of varnished and painted surfaces including solid wooden joinery, plywood laminates with thin hardwood veneers and glass reinforced plastic. When making your assessment of what you are going to do, bear in mind that the varnishing process consumes a lot of time, especially if the existing surfaces are in poor shape.

How to tackle osmosis

Many owners of old GRP boats live in fear of osmosis, but what exactly is osmosis and what can be done about it? Osmosis comes about...

Saildrive maintenance

There are less maintenance tasks to carry out on a saildrive transmission than on a traditional inboard shaft drive system with its associated stern gear. However, there are a few critical things that require maintenance, as recommended in detail by the engine manufacturers, and should be adhered to.

Dripless shaft seals

Dripless shaft seals are designed to completely stop water from entering a boat’s hull via the stern tube. There are two main types of dripless seals known as face seals and lip seals which many boat manufacturers now fit to production boats.

Essential Boat Safety Briefing

Skippers Responsibilities Skippers are obliged to give a safety briefing to the crew even if they are a regular crew. At...

The Boatyard Book – a boat owner’s guide to yacht maintenance, repair and refitting

The Boatyard Book is a fully illustrated 224 page practical reference manual that provides advice for boat owners on planning and carrying out annual maintenance, repairs, upgrades and refits of sailing yachts and motorboats, up to 20 metres in length.

Tacking a sailing boat

Tacking is the sailing manoeuvre used to change a boat's direction through an oncoming wind. Tacking a sailing boat calls...

Common marine electrical problems

Most problems with marine electrical systems arise from four possible sources, a lack of maintenance, a poor standard of initial installation, insufficient battery capacity, or ineffective charging systems.
Water ingress is a frequent issue – salt water can corrode contacts very quickly. If connections are not scrupulously clean – or are loose – resistance will be increased, resulting in progressively reduced power.

Know your Navlights & Shapes – essential for all skippers

Know your Navlights & Shapes International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (ColRegs) Anyone who is...