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Here we focus on tips and advice for staying safe on a sailboat at sea, the common causes of accidents on sailboats and what to do in an emergency.

9 ways to stay safe at sea

  • Always wear a personal flotation device (PFD) or life jacket. This is the most important safety device on a sailboat and should be worn at all times while on the water.

   

  • Have a VHF radio on board and know how to use it. A VHF radio is a crucial piece of safety equipment for communicating with other boats and shore stations in case of an emergency.

   

  • Have a well-stocked first aid kit on board. In case of injury, it’s important to have the necessary supplies on hand to treat minor injuries and stabilise more serious ones until professional help can arrive.

  • Know the weather forecast and have a plan in case of sudden changes. Be prepared for the possibility of storms or other adverse weather conditions and have a plan in place to handle them.
  • Know your boat’s capabilities and limitations. Understand the performance characteristics of your boat and don’t push it beyond its limits.
  • Use a heaving line to help rescue someone who has fallen overboard. A heaving line is a long, thin line with a weight attached to one end that can be thrown to someone in the water to help them get back on board.
  • Keep a sharp lookout for other boats and obstacles. Always be aware of your surroundings and keep a lookout for other boats and objects in the water that could pose a threat to your vessel.
  • Have a passage plan. A passage plan is a document that outlines your sailing itinerary, the crew on board, and any important details about your boat. It’s a good idea to leave a passage plan with a trusted friend or family member in case of an emergency.
  • Know how to use all of the safety equipment on board. Familiarise yourself with the location and operation of all safety equipment on your boat, including fire extinguishers, life rafts, and flare guns.

Common causes of accidents on sailboats

  • Human error: This can include mistakes made by the skipper or crew, such as misjudging the boat’s speed or course, or failing to follow proper safety procedures.
  • Mechanical failure: This can include issues with the boat’s engines, steering, or other equipment, which can lead to accidents if not properly maintained.
  • Weather conditions: Strong winds, heavy seas, and other adverse weather conditions can create hazards for sailboats.
  • Collisions: Sailboats can collide with other boats, rocks, or other objects in the water, which can lead to accidents.
  • Capsizing: This can occur when a sailboat is overpowered by wind and waves and flips over.
  • Falling overboard: This can happen if a crew member is not wearing a personal flotation device or is not paying attention to their surroundings.

It’s important for sailboat skippers to be aware of these potential hazards and take appropriate precautions to reduce the risk of accidents.

What should  do if a sudden storm occurs when I am at sea?

If you are caught in a sudden storm while at sea, it is important to take immediate action to ensure the safety of yourself and your vessel. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Stay calm and assess the situation.
  • If possible, head for the nearest safe harbour or sheltered area. If you are unable to do so, prepare for rough seas and strong winds.
  • Secure any loose items on deck to prevent them from being blown overboard.
  • Check the bilge pumps and make sure they are functioning properly.
  • Keep a close watch on the weather and listen to weather reports on the radio.
  • If you have a VHF radio, use it to call for help if necessary.
  • If you are in a small boat and the storm is severe, consider using your anchor as a sea anchor to help keep your boat pointed into the wind and waves.
  • Stay low in the boat to reduce the risk of being thrown overboard.
  • If you are in a survival suit or other flotation device, try to stay as close to the boat as possible.

Remember, safety should always be your top priority when on the water. If you are unprepared or unable to handle the conditions, it is better to wait for the storm to pass or head to a safe location rather than risk injury or damage to your vessel.

What should I do if my vessel’s engine malfunctions at sea?

If your vessel’s engine malfunctions at sea, it is important to take immediate action to ensure the safety of yourself and your vessel. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Stay calm and assess the situation.
  • Check the fuel and oil levels and see if the problem can be easily fixed.
  • If the problem cannot be easily fixed, try to sail to the nearest safe harbour or sheltered area if possible.
  • If you are unable to sail to a safe location, activate your emergency signalling device, such as a flare or EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon).
  • Use your VHF radio to call for help and give your location and the nature of the problem.
  • If you are unable to communicate with rescue authorities, consider using other signalling methods such as flashing lights or signalling mirrors.
  • Stay with your vessel if possible. It can provide some protection from the elements and make it easier for rescue personnel to locate you.
  • If you are in a small boat and the conditions are rough, consider using your anchor as a sea anchor to help keep your boat pointed into the wind and waves.
  • Stay low in the boat to reduce the risk of being thrown overboard.
  • If you are in a survival suit or other flotation device, try to stay as close to the boat as possible.

Remember, safety should always be your top priority when on the water. If you are unable to fix the engine problem and there is no safe harbour nearby, it may be necessary to abandon the vessel and rely on your emergency signalling devices and survival equipment to attract the attention of rescue personnel.

Is it better to stay with your boat rather than abandon it?

In general, it is usually better to stay with your boat if it is possible to do so safely. Your boat can provide some protection from the elements and make it easier for rescue personnel to locate you. However, there may be situations where abandoning the vessel is the safest option. For example, if the vessel is taking on water and is in danger of sinking, it may be necessary to abandon the vessel and rely on your personal flotation device (PFD) or life raft to stay afloat.

If you do decide to abandon the vessel, it is important to follow proper procedures and use your emergency signalling devices to alert rescue personnel to your location. Be sure to bring any essential survival equipment with you, such as a flashlight, water, food, and first aid kit.

It is also a good idea to have a plan in place for what to do in the event of an emergency. This can include practising abandon ship drills and making sure you are familiar with the location and proper use of emergency signalling devices and survival equipment.

Remember, safety should always be your top priority when on the water. If you are unsure whether it is safe to stay with your vessel or if you should abandon ship, it is always best to err on the side of caution and choose the option that will provide the greatest level of safety.

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.

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.

Marine engine electrical system

The typical basic electrical system associated with a marine engine includes a dedicated engine starting battery, a starter motor, a charger in the form of an alternator, a solenoid and some engine sensors and instruments.

Jester Challenge 2022 – Sailing single handed from Plymouth UK to the Azores: Part 6 – Communications

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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...

Essential Boat Buying Tips for First-Time Boat Owners

The first question that comes to mind when thinking about buying a boat is: what type of boat? There are more than 20 different kinds, of different sizes, for different purposes, and different pockets. So, your first step is to decide your boat type.

Boat Engine Safety Checks

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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.

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.

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

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Tidal heights and the rule of twelfths

For those skippers who need to make a quick calculation or don’t have access to specific tidal curves for their location, it is possible to make an approximation using a system called the Rule of Twelfths. This is a simple method used to estimate the height of tide at any given time during the tidal cycle. It is based on the idea that the rise and fall of the tide is not constant, but follows a predictable pattern than can be divided into twelve parts.

Boat electrics inspection checklist

With the boat ashore, here are some recommendations for carrying out a boat owner electrics inspection. Safety is always paramount so remember to do the checks with the batteries off. Wearing a head torch helps, make notes as you go and only tackle a repair if you are 100% sure you know what you are doing:

Pre-start engine checks

According to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) almost one third of emergency call outs at sea are caused by mechanical failure. Many engine breakdowns are avoidable. The best way to avoid a breakdown is to carry out pre-start checks before heading out to sea.

Capsize – understanding the risks

A skipper should know how their boat will cope with rough seas. By working within known limits and understanding the risks,...

Leaking decks

Leaking decks are perceived as a nuisance by some boat owners, but if leaks are ignored a much more serious situation may well be developing, especially in the case of boats with balsa or plywood deck cores. So deck leaks do need to be investigated and dealt with.

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.

Tools and spares for your boat

Tools and Spares to take to sea!

You won’t regret taking a look at our essential tips and checklist to make sure you’re prepared for routine maintenance and those unexpected jobs that come up whilst you’re afloat!

Gybing a sailing boat

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Steel hull maintenance

A steel boat owner’s biggest enemy is corrosion. You don’t have to worry about osmosis or rotting timbers, instead rust is the number one issue that will keep you awake at night.

How to predict wind direction and strength by reading a weather chart

Weather charts, also known as surface pressure or synoptic charts, contain a lot of information that helps weather...

Fixing position at sea using traditional methods

This post looks at some traditional methods used for fixing a vessel’s position at sea, within sight of land. Electronic fixes using chart plotters are very straightforward to record, but if for some reason a vessel’s electronics are faulty it is essential that a skipper knows how to use traditional methods.

Sailing into fog – being prepared and staying safe

Most skippers will sensibly delay their departure, if fog is forecast. However, if fog begins to form when you are at sea it is important to be prepared, and know what precautions to take, to help make your vessel detectable or visible in fog and keep the crew safe.

Boating emergency – how to broadcast a MAYDAY emergency call

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Keel maintenance and repair – Part 1

Keels are designed to act as underwater foils that generate lift as the boat moves through the water, counteracting the leeward force of the wind and enabling the boat to sail closer to the wind. Keel maintenance and repair is essential for the performance of your boat.