Select Page

Safety at sea is not as simple as just spending money adding shiny new emergency equipment such as liferafts, danbuoys, distress flares, EPIRBs and so on. While these items are important, it’s better to view them as an insurance that offers a potential lifeline when things have already gone badly wrong.

Emergency equipment is, in effect, the nautical equivalent of the airbags in your car: very reassuring to have, but nevertheless items you will never plan on needing to activate.

Attitude to risk

More than anything else what keeps us safe at sea is our attitude to risk. Given that it’s impossible to eliminate risk, we have to be continuously alive to the constantly changing situations that are an inevitable part of going to sea, analysing them for dangers so that any current or future risks can be identified. It’s then possible to build ways to mitigating these risks into your plans, along with a margin of safety that’s appropriate to the prevailing conditions.

So what are the biggest potential dangers you’re likely to encounter? Fortunately the list is surprisingly short – to individual crew members the key hazards are:

1. Fatigue, seasickness and hypothermia.

2. Sunburn and sunstroke.

3. Accidents involving dinghies and tenders.

4. Head injuries from the boom or main sheet.

5. Falling overboard.

6. Crushing fingers in a winch.

 The biggest dangers to the boat itself that may lead to serious incidents are as follows:

1. Bumping into solid objects such as land, rocks and other vessels.

2. Failure of key equipment.

3. Severe weather.

4. Fire.

5. Sinking.

Given the potential dangers of the sea, both lists are surprisingly short. Of course, there are other things that may go wrong, but most other crisis situations you might encounter, while potentially frightening at the time, are less likely to be life threatening or result in serious injury.

 Cascade of events

When serious incidents at sea are analysed one factor always stands out: very few have a single cause. Instead, most are the result of a chain of events with a catastrophic conclusion. In many cases it would only require any one of the many links in the chain to be broken to stop the situation cascading into an ever more serious state.

The most important lesson to draw from this is that, when faced with a potential emergency situation, it must be tackled in a calm and logical fashion. That may sound obvious and straightforward, but when things start to go wrong the reality is it will require a sustained and conscious effort to avoid running around in an adrenaline-fuelled panic that can easily make things worse.

When the pressure is on, rather than attempting to make instant life or death decisions, it’s easiest to remember drills and routines – that’s why man overboard drill practice is so important. Equally, for an inexperienced crew, frequent practice at reefing is also beneficial, and the same holds true for anchoring. The more these and other activities are routine, the easier it is to carry them out under pressure, without creating new problems.

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.

Feeling anxious at sea

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

Rewiring a boat – overcoming the challenges involved

Skippers need to have a basic knowledge of boat electrics, to avoid potential problems and to be able to solve them when they happen.

Boat engine basics

Boat engines come in all shapes and sizes and include inboards, outboards, petrol, diesel, electric and hybrid systems. Some engines are...

Boat Handling – anchoring

Anchoring your yacht or motorboat Anchoring is one of the most important boat handling skills. If you can set an anchor...

Understanding your boat’s compass

Article submitted by Mike Rossiter, Certificated Compass Adjuster. Since the magnetic compass was first used by the Chinese...

Understanding marine sealants & adhesives

Sealants, adhesives and adhesive sealantsThere is a bewildering variety of sealants, adhesives and even adhesive sealants available for...

ColRegs – avoiding collisions at sea

ColRegs - avoiding collisions at sea ColRegs Rule 8: Action to avoid collision (a) Any action taken to avoid collision shall...

Seized fixings and fastenings

Maintaining a boat can be a rewarding experience but at times it can also be frustrating. A prime example of this is when you come across a seized fixing or fastening that refuses to budge. Read our tips on how to release and fix them:

Antifouling for leisure boats – Part 4

Applying antifouling. Antifouling is best applied on a dry, calm day. It is best to apply the antifouling in the middle of the day to ensure the hull is dry and as warm as possible.

Weather forecasting resources and tips

All competent sailors need to have a good basic understanding of how to interpret a weather forecast. They also need to be able to interpret the actual conditions they are experiencing.

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.

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.

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...

Know your Navlights & Shapes – essential for all skippers

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

Distress flares – which flare, how & when to use?

How to use distress flares at sea Flares should be kept in a waterproof container in an easily accessible location such as a...

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.

Boat engine cooling systems

Some boat engine breakdowns are unavoidable but those caused by lack of maintenance or regular checks can be avoided. Failure to maintain an engine’s cooling system is a well known example of this, so it is well worth spending time checking over the cooling system both when the boat is ashore and afloat.

How a propeller works

Have a look around any boatyard and you will notice quite a variety of propellers – some have two blades, some have three and others have four or more. While most propellers are completely rigid some have blades that fold.

Avoiding personal dangers at sea

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.

Safe Skipper – crew management tips

Effective crew briefings are a vital part of the good on-board communication that helps everything to run smoothly on a sailing vessel at sea, whether it is cruising or racing.

Essential Knots: Sheet bend

Essential Knots: Sheet bend Use: Joining two ropes together. A sheet bend is particularly useful for joining two ropes of different...

Pleasure craft safety equipment recommendations

Safety equipment is an important part of boat preparation and it is advisable for all pleasure craft skippers to check their vessel is...

Five dangers a vessel may encounter at sea

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

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...