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Some people feel anxious at sea. Will they be seasick? What if they get caught in a violent storm? Could the boat capsize or sink? What if they fall overboard?

If a crew member is feeling anxious at sea then they may need reassuring by their crew mates. They need to know that such feelings are not uncommon. A lot hinges on developing an understanding of what the practical aspects of sailing involves, how we mitigate against risk at sea, and building confidence and skills. 

Anxiety, or fear, is natural. It is an emotion that evolved in humans to keep us safe from danger, so if you want to stay safe at sea then being a little anxious is sometimes a good thing.

Knowledge helps dispel fear

Ask the crew member why they may be feeling anxious at sea and what triggers their feelings of anxiety. When the boat heels over, do they feel a sudden sense of alarm, that the boat is going to keep on heeling and then capsize? Knowing the facts here is key. It will help if you remind them that a sailing boat is designed to heel over. The keel beneath the hull acts as a counterbalance and this stops the boat from rolling over. Understanding what is happening will help control this particular anxiety and others like it. 

Help the crew member to stop feeling anxious at sea

Are they afraid of losing their balance and falling overboard? In this case, there is nothing wrong in staying safe in the cockpit while the yacht is underway. If someone feels unsteady on their feet, then don’t expect them to venture up to the foredeck at sea until they are ready to do so. Encourage them to practice walking up to the foredeck when the boat is moored up. Make sure they learn where the handholds are around the deck and try to help them dispel negative thoughts.

Is the boat safe?

A good skipper will invariably have a deep respect for the sea. They will ensure the safety of their yacht and crew is their top priority. A good skipper will also reassure their crew that they won’t go to sea unless it is safe to do so. This means they will make sure that their boat is properly maintained and will carry out regular checks of all the gear, rigging, sails and engine. One of the reasons they do this is that they have learnt to leave nothing to chance. A good skipper gets to know about all the boat’s systems, inside and out. Should something go wrong then they will more than likely be able to fix it themselves.

Tips for crew members who feel anxious at sea:

  • Do not beat yourself up if you feel anxious. These are natural feelings when dealing with the unknown. Think back to the feelings you had when you learned to ride a bike or drive a car.
  • Allow yourself time to face your fears and get over them. 
  • Being in the know helps as knowledge dispels fear.
  • Be aware of the capabilities of the boat.
  • Practise safety drills.
  • Feel a sense of achievement in mastering a new skill. 
  • Make the very best of the beautiful sunsets, the sense of freedom that sailing brings and the company of the others, literally, in the same boat as you are.

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