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Really Useful Sailing Tips – Safety at Sea

By Richard Pierpoint | November 23rd, 2016

Safety at Sea

Safety on board is one of the most important things to think about when equipping a boat for sea – especially if you are trying to persuade others to come with you!
It’s imperative to carry a comprehensive selection of safety equipment on board your yacht, even if you are only going a few miles offshore. The more you can invest in, the better the chances of survival and recovery in a variety of emergency situations, including man overboard, collision/sinking, drifting without power, and on board injury.

Read on for some top tips on how to be safe at sea….

Tip 1 – Lifejackets and VHF Radio
Always carry enough lifejackets for all crew on board. Ensure they are up to date and in working condition, especially if they have automatic inflation canisters. Always carry a form of communication in addition to a mobile phone – a phone signal often becomes weak or nonexistent just a mile or two from the shore. A sturdy VHF radio is the answer. The transmission range is directly proportional to the height of the aerial. A static VHF set with 25watt output and a mast aerial will give you the maximum range. A one day course through an approved RYA school will give you a VHF Operators License. Time well invested and a legal requirement if you want to operate the VHF.

Tip 2 – First Aid and Fire Safety

As well as our previous tip, you should also carry a first aid kit, radar reflector, fire extinguishers, a fire blanket for the stove, a couple of buckets, compass, tow rope and life lines (which attach to lifejackets).

Tip 3 – Carry a full set of flares

Your chandlery can advise on which flares to have – and keep them in a watertight container. You can also buy pre-assembled sets, eg. an offshore pack. Ensure they are in date. Old flares can malfunction and be dangerous, or not function at all. Remember – out of date flares must be disposed of legally and properly. It’s illegal to dump them anywhere. Always be aware of the expiry date on your flares, and read the supplier’s guidance to disposal on the packaging. Some coastguard offices will accept them, and local police or fire brigade may too, or they can be returned to the suppliers.

Tip 4 – EPIRB and PLB

Yachts should invest in an on board EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) which sends a signal via satellite to search and rescue stations who will co-ordinate a rescue. It is worth the extra investment to make sure that you buy one with GPS so that on activation your position is also transmitted. In addition, your crew should carry a personal location beacon (PLB). This means that if you are thrown overboard, or the yacht gets into trouble unexpectedly such as a collision, you can activate this from your person, creating a beacon for the Search and Rescue to hone in on.

Tip 5 – Liferafts

Not everyone wants to invest in a liferaft, but for offshore sailing it is important to carry one, and if you are just doing one major voyage each summer it may be more economical to hire one. Your liferaft should be annually serviced by the supplier or agent. It is also worth having a ‘grab bag’ of useful things that you need to take off the yacht in a hurry such as water, torches, high energy food, flares, VHF radio, thermal protective aids etc.

A liferaft is a last resort and you should always step up into the it!

Tip 6 – Safety Briefing


Always brief the crew on safety procedures before you leave the mooring. They need to know where the lifejackets are stored and, if the weather is looking rough, each person should take possession of a lifejacket and adjust it to their size before leaving the mooring. Demonstrate the use of safety equipment to them. There should always be a minimum of 2 people on board that have had a full briefing and are able to operate Mayday calls, flares, liferafts etc.
Tip 7 – Man overboard


If a crew member falls over the side there are some important key actions to take. First, STOP the boat as quickly as possible. You should stay in the proximity of the person in the water. It is imperative that you immediately locate and mark the position of the person in the water. Have one of the crew watch the MOB and never take his/her eyes off the MOB.

Many yachts now carry chart plotters with a MOB button. This should be activated immediately as it will exactly locate the position where the person fell into the water. Having stopped the yacht (often best done by hoving to) and engaging the engine, ensuring that the MOB is not near the propeller, circle the MOB and approach from a downwind, reaching direction. This gives you more manoeuvrability to pull sails in and out to adjust speed as needed.

Man overboard IS A MAYDAY SITUATION.

Make a Mayday call by VHF radio (better to tell them you’ve recovered the MOB, than not make the call, in case things get worse). If there is any doubt that you will pick up the MOB on your first attempt, you should make a close ‘pass’ and drop the life buoy or other flotation or marking devices to the MOB. There are various ways and products that you can buy to help lift a heavy person out of the water. A simple one is to tie a halyard around under the MOB’s arms and winch him/her on board.

Tip 8 – Shoreside Contact


You should always tell a family member or close friend when you are setting off on a voyage, even if it is just a day trip. Tell them who is on the boat, where you are going and what time you are expecting to return. Don’t forget to contact them when you do! With that information, if the worst was to happen, search and rescue authorities know the area to search and how many people they are looking for.

A good source of information on Safety at Sea is available on the Royal Yachting Association’s website HERE
Hopefully, you will never need to use any of your safety equipment or procedures, but it is so important to be prepared. There is nothing worse than ‘what ifs’ after something has happened.
Sail Safe!