Safety at sea

With the leak that this boat had the skipper would have soon got tired of baling water with his bucket and his boat would have sunk!We are fast approaching the time of year when we all start to use our boats again, whilst we may have been out a few times this winter, our boats have not been used that much in recent months and we ourselves are perhaps a little out of practise. Our first priority should be safety and we should therefore ask ourselves the following questions.

Will I get the boat back safely?
Will the boat get me back safely?

If you are unsure whether you have the skills to take the craft out and get it safely back again then take an RYA training course, not a lifeboat!

Once you are confident in your ability, you need to consider whether the craft is capable of what you are asking it to do. Is the boat fully found, well maintained and suitable for the trip you are planning? The ability of your crew should also be given consideration.

Their boat did sink - so it was lucky for them that they had a dinghyEngine checks should be taken seriously and all equipment should be checked regularly for wear and tear or damage. Flares should be in date and lifejackets regularly serviced. Don't just presume that your navigation lights will work, because they did last time you used them.... check them before you leave. Have you still got last years batteries in your torch? If so buy new ones.

Nobody who intends to take to the water should consider this an onerous task. It is after all not only your own life you put at risk, but also the lives of your crew and anyone who might be involved in trying to rescue you.

Also remember that international SOLAS regulations (Safety of Life at Sea) require that we make responsible safety preparations prior to going to sea.

A 60 metre long tow rope made up as a bridleThey are as follows:

Skippers should practice safe navigation and avoid dangerous situations. This means that you are expected to make a navigational plan prior to going to sea, which should involve the following: working out a course to steer, checking the weather forecast, check that the tides are suitable for your planned passage, take into consideration the limitations of your vessel, take into account the experience and ability of your crew, check a chart and pilot book to make certain that you are familiar with any navigational dangers en-route. You should have a contingency plan for every conceivable thing that might go wrong, this should involve ‘ports of refuge’, and - taking into account wind and tide - when you can realistically reach them. You must make certain that your navigational plan is not over reliant on GPS and you should at any time during the passage be able to navigate yourself to safety without the help of GPS should it fail.

Don't even think of going to sea without a long rope, at the least 3 or 4 times the length of you boat, that you can use as a tow rope. Preferably have one made up already as a bridle similar to the one that you can see in the photograph to the above-left. In the event of a major breakdown or dismasting if you accept a tow and have to use a rope from the towing vessel the skipper can claim most of the value of your boat as salvage. Using your own tow rope his claim will be much reduced. For more information on this subject click here to read my article on salvage.

Conforming to these SOLAS regulations is extremely important, in addition to all of them being common sense and good seamanship, people need to be aware that failure to comply is breaking the law. In the event of an incident, particularly if there is any loss of life, if you are found not to have complied, your insurance could well be invalidated and you could be prosecuted and if found guilty you would not be the first person to serve a prison sentence for this type of offence.

Martin Northey - Yachtmaster Instructor for Sail and Power
The Iberian Sea School - RYA Sailing, Motor Cruising and Powerboat School.
Apartado 1039 - Estaçâo de Correios de Vilamoura, 8126 - 907 Quarteira, Portugal.
Tel: 00 351 965 800702 
Web Site:
Skype: martinnorthey

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