This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

No matter you take a sailboat or a motorboat, with friends or for business, safety on board is always crucial and everyone agrees on a good briefing before leaving the port: just like when you step on an airplane, same stuff.

Be it a watercraft or a pleasure boat and whether you have a boating licence: if someone falls overboard or gets hurt, the problem has to be managed anyway. So why wasting a great time for such a little trifle?

Good sense on board is basically a winning choice so let’s analyse what the basic issues are to be stressed before setting the sail, without succumbing to scaremongering or being too pedantic, and taking for granted that the safety equipment available on board is compliant to the directives for that kind of vessel, navigation route and crew (documents for all people on board are compulsory).

Tailor your briefing as you wish but I recommend you don’t skip it, it should be a must.

SUGGESTED SCHEDULE:

  1. Don’t fall overboard.
  2. Be careful when getting around the boat.
  3. Don’t touch what you aren’t familiar with.

1 – DON’T FALL OVERBOARD

It might seem quite banal but this is the greatest risk, especially when the weather is not ideal. Taking for granted that it isn’t recommended to set the sail when the weather conditions don’t allow it and the vessel category isn’t suitable to the weather report, once at sea the winning ones are not the more experienced but those who have good sense and respect for the nature.

For this reason I suggest that you explain the safety equipment available on board, life jackets first: where they’re stowed, how to wear them (you’d rather take the measure of all people on board) and how to move on the bow in case of heavy seas (lifelines and harnesses). When kids are on board, you must have their size.

When needed, a ring lifebuoy is the first thing to thrown onto water therefore it is important to explain how to manage this situation as well as the ‘man over board’ procedures:

  • Throw the ring lifebuoy.
  • Somebody establishes the point.
  • MOB Mayday communication.
  • MOB retrieval.
  • MOB Mayday gate.

Over 90% of those who fall over board – especially in challenging weather conditions –cannot be usually rescued, let alone if unconscious after receiving a blow to the head. Even though the person over board is harnessed to the boat, drowning only comes through spraying of the water driven by the wind or by the hull since the body will be ideally in that point. So let’s not undervalue these options.

And when you pee (of course I’m talking to the boys), you’d better do it in the open air but mind, not upwind and always keeping a hand on the handrail.

2 – BE CAREFUL WHEN GETTING AROUND THE BOAT

Understanding how to get around the boat is another apparently banal issue. The boat rolls therefore it will take you time to get used to it and to acquire a ‘seagoing gait’.

The important things to warn about are:

  • Get around the boat always grasping the handrail.
  • Get around the deck keeping your barycentre low and in the lowest possible areas.
  • When you move to the fore, especially at night, warn those who are at the aft end of the boat.
  • Don’t run or jump, especially with wet feet (this also applies to adults).
  • Pay attention to your toes, shins, knees and head, especially if you are on a sailboat: we all know too well that the boom can be very aggressive.

High spirits will burst after you’ve opened the first bottle of bubbles. Being able to get around the boat carefully applies to no matter whom, starting from the skipper: I recommend that you manage this responsibility as you’re expected to… It goes without saying that if the man over board is the skipper, it won’t be enough to declare to the competent authorities involved that he or she has been the victim of a mutiny.

3 – DON’T TOUCH WHAT YOU AREN’T FAMILIAR WITH

This is a very important rule as well as an excellent excuse to prevent curious and shrewd people from causing concerns with the crucial parts of your boat:

  • Starting.
  • VHF radio.
  • Signalling flares.

For any coloured or flashing thing, for any lever or switch, for anything you find in the notorious bathroom, you have to explain what people can or can’t touch while the 3 above mentioned aspects need thorough reflection.

Always keeping safety in mind, it is first of all of crucial importance that you identify at least one person on board (if there isn’t anyone who’s already familiar with these aspects) to teach how to start and stop the engine as well as to engage the drive and the neutral gear. This is fundamental in case the skipper is unable to.

The VHF radio is another major instrument. It isn’t a toy to be used to shout nonsense to your friends along your same route but an instrument to be managed according to precise rules and criteria, even more so when needed to signal a possible danger. Explaining how it works is of crucial importance but don’t forget to leave the written procedure at hand near the device. In this way, “in case of …”, anyone will be able to help the skipper should he or she be unable to since anxiety and panic don’t help your brain work at its best.

Last but not least, in addition to spotting where the fire extinguishers are and how to use them, show how smoke signals work, which type has to be chosen depending on the weather and how to manage them in case of windy conditions.

That’s all. Few things, I repeat, but extremely important and easy to adapt.

Then find the right way and moment to teach your crew, keeping in mind that giving a bunch of instructions all at a time to a beginner won’t help efficient memorization.

If we had to choose, the description of this last part may be kept on hold for navigation, when conditions permit: yes, it’s important but not necessarily before setting the sail, at least not as much as the other aspects.

In short…

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Aldo Lavezzo

Navigo da oltre 10 anni nel Mediterraneo, dalle Porquerolles al Dodecanneso e dalle latitudini polari delle isole Lofoten alle Seychelles. Circa 10mila miglia di pura passione e divertimento su barche da charter o armatoriali. Nella vita mi occupo di comunicazione ma per non perdere mai il contatto con il mare, ho un blog che parla di come si vive la vita a bordo di una barca a vela: saidisale.com ma anche di come si vive la vita, dal punto di vista del mare.
Aldo Lavezzo

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