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Many people ask me how to improve their safety and their boat safety equipment. Given that we all have our own navigation style, most of the boats I visit aren’t compliant with their national marine standards for what concerns safety equipment: the liferaft is stuck at the bottom of the peak and life jackets are stowed in the most difficult-to-reach peak. I don’t even want to mention those who fly a foreign flag to prevent arranging complying equipment, because it’s “not subject to controls”.

While checking the onboard safety equipment the following situation is often found: fire extinguishers and low-quality life jackets still sealed in protective film, expired flares … all crammed in the same peak, in the dining area, and, last but not least, an 8-seat liferaft thrust into a hole that you would need Hulk to get it out of it. I timed the operation with a stopwatch: it takes 2 minutes, and I didn’t place the liferaft outboard! Panels, lids … If you install the liferaft on the deckhouse, it will be swept by the waves; if you stow it in the peak, you’ll have a hard time to get it out.

The transom seems to be the best place: near the water and stuck between two steps.

In 2001, at the start of the Med. Odyssey organized by Alfredo Giacon, an Englishman of ARC came visit the boat we were to race with. All was well at the beginning but then he asked two point-blank questions: ‘Where do you keep the emergency plugs?’. ‘There, in the drawer,’ I replied. ‘Good, all plugs are the right diameter and are mounted on valves and tubes, guess when you search them or have them searched by your crew during a storm.’ Then he asked: ‘Someone falls out of board, what will you do?’ Answers overlaid: life jacket, MOB button, I’ll take the helm, I’ll fasten the castaway … The Englishman smiled: ‘Stop the boat as the first thing, then comes all the rest.’ I’ve never lost anyone on my way but he was right.

In collaboration with the editorial office of Vela e Motore, many years ago we made a test on liferafts at 25-30kn inside and outside the dam of Ravenna since the regulations had just changed. Paola and I chose the Zodiac, the best on papers: she climbed on board from the boat (along with 2 other people in order to crowd the liferaft) while I swam. I would have never been able to get on board unless she had helped me into the liferaft: the waves, the raft rotated, the rope ladder swayed all ways, the lifejacket … In 5 minutes we were adrift to the dam: we tried to row but it was impossible. The liferaft stopped and stabilized only when we dropped the floating anchor. It’s been like engaging the hand brake while cornering.

We were forbidden by the Harbour Office to disembark on the beach ‘cause we would have surely overturned. The liferaft had been launched from their boat since it was almost impossible from our sailboat: a 60-kg bar of soap! The day after we made the self-righting test: the sea was calm yet 2 people (male, about 80 kg each) were often needed on an 8-seat liferaft. After a week some liferafts were deflated and the survival kit was really too simple. The tests were carried out in November 2004: I wore a drysuit (not so lightweight) otherwise the cold temperature would have caused me tachycardia.

At night everything is invisible (I post a picture at dawn) and the flash is the only way to have visibility. When it overturns, the liferaft falls over you along with the cylinder!
This experience taught me that it’s easier to climb on a dinghy and that the liferaft is the last resort. Swimming pool training helps but many other variables have to be taken into account: mental conditions, etc. Prepare a checklist: a canister with food, portable VHF or something else can make the difference. In short, you can always improve and training is a must – as is teaching people coming on board, almost as during a flight – since it’s like turning into soldiers.

This is why I suggest a self-righting liferaft, manual Epirb with activation when wet, easily replaceable battery and PLB, automatic 180-200N lifejackets with hood, harnesses (also DIY) with polyester line and carbine hook with screw gate (each crew member has 2 harnesses, one always fastened in case of transfers), Spectra life line (central or converging to the mast) to prevent falling out of board, rugged handrails with good guardrails (2 broken ribs are to be preferred). And then external lifejackets and many other things such as wooden plugs on tubes and valves. On our boat we use a Viking liferaft, Ocena Signal MOB1 and Epirb 100G having 96 hours of battery life according to Solas, compatible Meosar to be installed either on board (under a skylight) or out of board. The AIS is a ClassB Transponder – and therefore receiver and transmitter – better if fitted with a dedicated antenna or with an insulated metal antenna.

Give your boat’s planned voyage to your family, to the marina as well as to the sea rescue institutions if you know you might have problems.

Davide Zerbinati
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