Safety Devices

There are numerous safety devices on a sailboat. Redundancy of systems count as an important safety feature on any vessel. For example, there are electronic and manual bilge pumps. Some devices or features are part of the vessel. Others are added to prevent catastrophe while some are in place should they become necessary in the event that somethings catastrophic takes place.

I keep a fairly keen eye on the safety aspects of my vessel over time. I do, however, take the time to do a periodic inspection to ensure that all parts are operational and to determine if I have any deficiencies that need to be remedied. I inspected the boat today and will share some of the findings so that those of you who charter and don’t own can get an idea of what sorts of things an owner might address.

A few months ago, I noted that two of my three fire extinguishers were in need of service. Rather than service old extinguishers I decided to install new ones.

Jacklines are important when sailing offshore. I have a new set and an old set. These allow me to run several types of lines if necessary. Duplicity is safety.

Tethers are used to secure ones harness to the vessel either at a hard point or the jacklines. I have two. I inspected them today. They’re fine.

Personal flotation devices are required by me on my vessel. The USCG requires them to be on the boat. I require them to be on those who sail with me.

Type 5 PFD by Spinlock. I find these to be comfortable. Many feel they are top line PFDs.

I have three excellent life vest/harnesses. I have two other that were on the boat when I purchased it. These type 5 PFDs have CO2 cartridges that inflate the vest when the sensor comes in contact with water. Inspection includes evaluation of buckles, straps, fabrics, etc. Importantly, one must ensure that the indicator is green reflective of the fact that the cartridge is charged and ready to do its job should the wearer end up in the water. My three PFDs indicated green. One of the two that came with the vessel indicated red. Here are examples…..

Being a scientist at heart, I decided to “experiment” to test the hypothesis: A PFD with a red indicator will not inflate when exposed to water. The corollary must also be tested: A PFD with a green indicator will inflate when exposed to water. Here are the results in living color for you to see for yourselves….

There you have it. Check your PFD every single time you wear it. If it’s indicating red change the cartridge or wear a different PFD. Who wants to fall into the water and regret not having checked when you find out that it doesn’t inflate? Just check it! When I flew airplanes we had a saying regarding the glide slope lights on final approach “red over red then you’re dead” (because you’re coming in too low and shallow). I suppose we could say, in sailing circles, “if it’s red you’re dead.” Simple as that!

There are a few safety devices to assist in recovering a PIW (person in water). I have a life sling affixed to the vessel. I also have a USCG required throw ring. I keep a throw rope in a bag on my vessel in the event that a line must be thrown to someone in the water.

A first aid kit is essential. I have two. One on the vessel and another in the so-called ditch bag. Almost anything one could require, including sea sickness pills, is included.

Flares are required by the USCG. They have specific requirements for type and number. I exceed requirements with regards to the flares on the vessel and have other signal devices in the ditch bag. I have a mix of red flares, smoke signals and even one white flare reserved for night emergencies. I also have a battery powered flare that supersedes the need for some of the more traditional flares. My advice…have more on hand than you are required to carry.

I have a number of air horns used to communicate with others via sound signals. I also have a hailing horn linked to my VHF radio that can be used to hail other vessels and also broadcast repeated signals employed in different situations such as when sailing or motoring in fog.

I keep various handheld lights on the vessel. These include a rechargeable spotlight, flashlight, small portable lantern, and a red headlight for nighttime use on deck or at the navigation table. I have a supply of surplus batteries in containers that prohibit ingress of marine air that contains salt and could lead to corrosion. I had to replace the batteries in my headlamp and flashlight today. The lights are stored together so that I know just where to go for them whenever they’re needed.

An EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon) is a must for coastal passages and ocean sailing. I test to ensure that it is operational about every month.

A Viking life raft and a ditch bag are also on board. The raft is due for its next inspection in 2022. The ditch bag, a bag with all sorts of survival equipment including a handheld radio, food, water, first aid kit, etc, is taken with the crew to the life raft if there is a dire urgency to abandon ship. I had to recharge the battery in the handheld today. Fortunately, I have a cartridge that accepts AAA batteries in the event the Lithium ion battery is discharged.

Life raft and ditch bag (yellow).

There are a myriad of other safety items on the boat. These include extra lines, a roving fender, several knives in strategic places, the emergency tiller, storm sails, etc.

I am firmly convinced that the most important safety features on a sailboat include ones brain……common sense, experience, attitudes toward safety and prevention. Negligence and stupidity lead to most tragedies at sea. Don’t drink and sail. If you must, don’t drink excessively. Regardless of whether you’re drinking alcohol or tea, don’t pee off the side of the vessel…use the head. This act of relieving oneself, especially when intoxicated, is a commonly reported cause of people ending up in the water. Wear your PFD at all times. Ensure that the indicator on it is green. Use jack lines and tethers when necessary. For example, I always use my tether when single handling. Practice your crew overboard recovery procedures. Learn the proper use of the propane system on your vessel. Respect the wind and water. Don’t go out it there are small craft advisories with wind and waves that exceed your vessels capabilities in your hands. Follow your skippers instructions without fail. Sail with knowledge and skill. Know your navigation aids and rules to avoid collision. Use your brain……and you may never be required to employ the safety features that are the subject of this post.

Relaxing on Skiron at the end of today’s safety devices inspection.

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