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.

Engine failure at sea – keeping the boat safe

If the engine stops when you are underway, or your have to shut it down when a warning buzzer sounds, you also need to make sure the boat remains safe. It’s important therefore to recognise situations in which the boat would be immediately put in danger if the engine were to fail.

ColRegs Nav Lights & Shapes, Rules Of The Road and IALA Buoys Apps

ColRegs Nav Lights & Shapes, Rules Of The Road and IALA Buoys Apps Make Learning Rules on iPhone, iPad, iPod and Android...

Engine failure at sea – common causes and how to avoid them

Many engine failures are caused by lack of maintenance, resulting in fuel filter blockages, water pump failures, overheating and other breakdowns. Indeed, one of the most common reasons for marine rescue service call outs is for one of the most basic reasons possible – boats that have run out of fuel.

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.

Finding your way at sea: waypoints

Any sea voyage needs a certain amount of planning before it is undertaken. It makes sense to think about where you are going, how you will get there and what factors might influence your plan. Planning the route itself is also critical. One of the essential parts of modern navigation is the use of waypoints.

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.

Understanding tides

If you are used to sailing in tidal waters, you will know that tides can be both a benefit and a hindrance to the sailor. In many ways,...

Sailing at the touch of a button

Easier and more controlled sail handling can also be achieved by powering up a furling mast. I came across some interesting solutions at the Southampton Boat Show this week on the Selden Mast stand, where they were running demos of their E40i electric winch and SMF furling system.

Essential Knots: Figure of eight

Essential Knots: Figure of eight Use: Stopper knot, prevents a rope from being pulled through a hole e.g. through a block or...

Boatyard Health and Safety

Boat storage facilities are potentially hazardous environments and it is the responsibility of both boat owners and boatyards to ensure that the...

How to use tides and currents to your advantage

If you are contemplating a cruise through tidal waters and strong currents, then planning your trip carefully in advance is essential to enable you to take advantage of favourable tides rather than constantly fighting against them.

Narrowboating on the Kennet and Avon Canal

A recently cancelled sailing event I was due to take part in left us with a free weekend in the diary. Given that my wife and I were celebrating a bumper wedding anniversary and the weather forecast was for fine weather, we decided to hunt around for a last minute canal holiday.

ColRegs Rule 14 – Head-on Situation

  ColRegs Rule 14: Head-on Situation (a) When two power-driven vessels are meeting on reciprocal or nearly reciprocal...

Cutless bearing replacement

Cutless bearings can last for many years but if the propeller shaft is out of alignment they will wear through more quickly. If you have noticed a clunking sound when motoring then it could be a worn cutless bearing that is causing the problem.

Repairing a leaking hull-to-deck joint

If you suspect a hull-to-deck joint has failed, then being absolutely sure where the actual leak is occurring is of prime...

Sail care and maintenance – Part 2

At the end of the sailing season sails should be washed and inspected carefully for damage, including small tears, stitching failure, ultraviolet damage, stains and mildew.

Boat Engine Safety Checks

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

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.

An explanation of the IALA maritime buoyage systems – IALA A and IALA B

What are the differences between the two IALA buoyage systems, IALA Region A and IALA Region B, and where are they used?   As recently as the 1970s...

Boat maintenance – what does it involve?

The maintenance of a boat involves things like cleaning, varnishing, painting, polishing, antifouling, servicing the engine, servicing the seacocks, and maintaining the gas and plumbing systems. It all amounts to a fairly considerable amount of work that can’t be ignored if you are to keep your boat in a safe and good condition.

Top Ten Tips For Learning The ColRegs Boating Rules Of The Road

Colregs Boating Rules Of The Road Skippers struggle to learn and remember the ColRegs Yachtmaster and Day Skipper course...

Jester Challenge 2022 – Sailing single handed from Plymouth UK to the Azores: Part 7 – Motivation

Jester Challenge – A modern experiment in old-fashioned self-reliance, self sufficiency, and personal responsibility. This is the seventh 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.

Common medical emergencies at sea

A medical emergency aboard a boat at sea requires immediate attention to ensure the safety of the casualty and the crew in general. The skipper needs to know which crew members, if any, have had medical training or have a first aid qualification. All boats should carry first aid handbooks to help an untrained crew cope with a medical emergency.

Jester Challenge 2022 – Sailing single handed from Plymouth UK to the Azores: Part 8 – Arriving at the Azores

Jester Challenge – A modern experiment in old-fashioned self-reliance, self sufficiency, and personal responsibility. This is the eighth 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.

Marine engine oil system maintenance

The regular maintenance of a marine diesel is key to preventing engine failure at sea. This means doing regular checks of the fuel, cooling, electrical and oil systems.