Select Page

What are the main dangers a vessel may face at sea and what should skippers do to reduce the risk of these happening?

  1. Collisions with other vessels

container ship 2 miles

The Collision Regulations apply to “all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels” as stated in The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea. Everyone in charge of a vessel should know the rules of the road like the back of their hand and if you haven’t been at sea for a while it would be wise to read up on these before going afloat. Pay particular attention in Section 1 of the IRPCS to Rules 5 and 6 which deal with keeping a look out and maintaining a safe speed; Rule 9 which covers navigating in narrow channels. Section 2 covers the conduct of vessels in sight of one another, give way priorities and action to be taken – all of this is essential to know. For those sailing at night or in restricted visibility, all relevant rules are laid out in Section 3.

Check rigging sail boat

  1. Failure of key equipment

There are plenty of examples of sailing yachts that have overcome significant difficulties such as broken masts and rudders, yet have reached harbour using their own resources. However, equipment failure also has the potential to be incredibly demoralising and has caused a good number of crews to loose confidence in their vessel, leading to unnecessary abandonments.

The first step to avoiding equipment failure is to do daily checks of the engine, rig, and other equipment. This procedure will identify many imminent failures in advance and will also help you to get to know your boat better and improve your understanding of its various systems.

If you do encounter gear failure there are a couple of key questions that will guide your next steps:

  • Is it an item that offers convenience such as ease of handling, and therefore isn’t absolutely essential, or is it one that’s vital to the operation of the boat?
  • If the latter, can the broken item be readily substituted or replaced?

It is worth noting the large number of sailing yachts that are rescued by lifeboat following engine failure. The lack of a working engine often seems to cause skipper and crew to lose more confidence in the vessel than is logical. As well as the basic daily checks skippers should make sure the engine is serviced up to date and in good order. Skippers should also know how to carry out basic repairs including diagnosing starting problems, changing fuel filters, bleeding air out of the fuel system and replacing the water pump impeller. A short marine engine maintenance course is a worthwhile investment of time and money.

rough weather sailing

3 Severe weather

While severe weather can put a vessel in danger, most rescues at sea are carried out in more benign conditions. Even so, rough seas and strong winds can uncover existing deficiencies in the boat. The loads in the rig, for instance, reach a maximum when the boat is fully powered up – often in no more than a force 3 when sailing to windward.

On a rough day any debris that might otherwise reside on the bottom of the fuel tank will get stirred up and is likely to block fuel filters.  In addition, fatigue, sea sickness and cold can all play a much larger part in the equation than on a fine day.

What constitutes bad weather will vary considerably depending on your experience, the design of your boat and the equipment carried. Those with lots of experience of sailing in a Force 7 and even occasional gales will clearly cope more easily than a crew that has never previously encountered more than a Force 5. Similarly, a boat with a well cut heavy weather and storm sails will be able to make ground to windward and away from a lee shore long after one that relies on an old and stretched deeply reefed roller genoa in such conditions.

boat fire

4 Fire

Almost everything a modern boat is made of is highly combustible, so the prospect of a fire on board is one of the most frightening incidents that can happen at sea. A decent-sized fire extinguisher can be extremely effective, providing it’s used promptly, as is a fire blanket for cooking fires.

However, this is another instance in which prevention is the route to peace of mind. That means having first-rate gas system that’s properly maintained, including periodic replacement of flexible pipes and regulators. It also means that petrol for outboard engines should be stowed on deck, so the vapour from any spillages can escape, rather than stowing the fuel in a cockpit locker, where it may leak into the bilge.

It’s equally important to keep the electrical system well maintained, with the batteries firmly secured in place – a short circuit in a 12V system is capable of starting an electrical fire.

broaching

5 Sinking

Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence with modern yachts and is usually the result of external factors such as grounding, hitting debris such as a container, or collision with another vessel. However, there have also been a small number of instances in which skin fittings have succumbed to extensive electrolytic action, or the speed log transducer has been damaged.

In addition to pipework being double clipped to skin fittings, a tapered softwood plug of the correct size should be tied to the fitting to prevent it floating away and becoming lost should the boat become flooded. For the same reason, bilge pump handles should be secured by a lanyard.

When a yacht starts to fill with water it’s easy to get a false perspective – when the boat is heeled it takes surprisingly little before it starts to wash over the lee bunk in the saloon – and many boats have been abandoned prematurely for this reason. On the other hand, if you really do have a serious problem – and it’s clear the boat really is sinking rapidly– then you need to take action to raise the alarm and abandon ship immediately.

Finally, if a dangerous situation does arise, the first thing to do is to clearly assess what is going on and communicate this with the crew and if necessary radio the coastguard and alert them of your predicament. Then take positive steps to remedy the situation and be prepared to figure out viable solutions with crew members, the rescue services and other vessels in your vicinity.

 

Light characteristics – how do navigators identify lights at night?

How do navigators identify the different types of light around our coasts at night and what are their characteristics?Navigating at...

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...

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...

Boat gas system maintenance

There are correct types of hose for marine plumbing, sewerage, exhaust, cooling and gas and all hoses should be checked regularly for wear and deterioration.

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.

Diesel engine winterisation

An inactive boat engine needs to be protected from corrosion during the winter, caused by the rising humidity levels through the cold months and the salty coastal air. This applies whether the boat is left afloat or hauled out over the winter. Read here about the two important stages of winterisaton for a diesel boat engine.

Understanding boat engines

Irrespective of what kind of engine a boat is equipped with and who does the work, the regular care and maintenance of a marine engine is essential. The most common cause of marine engine failure is widely known to be lack of maintenance.

The dangers of running aground in a motor boat

The peril of grounding a motor boat is not only an inconvenience; it can lead to substantial risks for both the vessel and its passengers. . In this article, we’ll explore the potential dangers of running aground and highlight the importance of proper navigation and preparedness to avoid these hazards!

Boat Security: Protecting your vessel from theft & vandalism

Boats are susceptible to theft and vandalism. Protecting your vessel from these risks requires a proactive approach to boat security. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the various threats to boat security and provide practical strategies and technologies to safeguard your investment and enjoy peace of mind on the water.

Seacock maintenance

If seacocks are always left open and neglected they can eventually seize which will prove a serious threat to boat safety should a connecting hose fail and the seacock refuses to close. There are three main types of seacock – ball valves, cone valves and gate valves.

Boat batteries

Under-sized battery banks are one of the key factors behind power failure at sea, as well as the premature failure of batteries, so make sure that your boat battery measures up to the use you want to put it to.

Understanding tide tables and tidal curves

There are many factors that influence local tidal patterns and it’s essential for every sailor to have a good understanding of tide tables and tidal charts to ensure they can calculate the level of tide at any given time.

The VHF DSC Radio jargon buster

AIS - Automatic Identification System This system is used by shipping. It allows another vessel or coast station to use...

Sector lights, directional lights, leading lights – how do they differ?

Sector lights, directional lights and leading lights guide vessels safely through hazardous waters or narrow channels at...

Repairing chips and dings in gelcoat

The gelcoat topsides of a GRP boat can be pampered and restored to their former glory relatively easily when it is ashore. Gelcoat is only a very thin outer layer of the hull, often less than 1mm thick, so you should avoid cleaning it with highly abrasive cleaners, or an-ything that could potentially damage its surface.

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...

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.

Boating Rules of the Road – International ColRegs

    International ColRegs Rule 7: Risk of Collision Anyone who is responsible for a vessel at sea, from the...

Boat Engine Failure – what to check

Engine failure If your engine fails or is overheating there are a number of things to check immediately: • Air filter...

A five day sailing cruise of the Solent, UK

Welcome to our virtual Solent sailing cruise – a five day sail in the south of England from Bosham Quay in Chichester...

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...

Cleaning & polishing painted topsides

The gelcoat topsides of a GRP boat can be pampered and restored to their former glory relatively easily when it is ashore. Gelcoat is only a very thin outer layer of the hull, often less than 1mm thick, so you should avoid cleaning it with highly abrasive cleaners, or an-ything that could potentially damage its surface.

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...

Rudders and steering systems – Part 3

In the third of our three blog articles on rudders and steering systems, we look at how to replace rudder bearings and repair a water-saturated core.