Alvah Simon's blog - Safe sailing tips

23:48, Jul 16 2012
Alvah Simon
Our tethers are permanently attached to the jacklines and draped into the companionway. In rough weather we are safely attached BEFORE we come up into the cockpit.

In an earlier blog I touched upon some of the differences between racing and cruising. One's racing prowess can be directly measured at the finish line. If you are showing your heels to the rest of the fleet you are doing it right, and if you are consistently in the wash of the winners then you take remedial action.

But how can we ascess our cruising performance? For as much as time on the water counts, experience cannot be directly measured via a mile-meter alone. After all, the typical Tasman crossing can dish up more drama than a lifetime of Caribbean cruises.

It really comes down to familiarity with our vessels, the level of preparation prior to a voyage, and the safe execution of the plan during the voyage - i.e in a cruising context, to sail safely is to sail well. 

In that vein I have no axe to grind regarding the addition of the plethora of modern equipment available today. Why would we not want the convenience of GPS, radar, SSB, etc. But this modern gadgetry can seduce a captain into a false sense of well being.

Alvah Simon
The jack lines are secured well inboard and run from the cockpit to the foredeck. A crew member can move forward all the way to the bow without unhooking their safety lanyard.

An American life-raft salesman recently told me that even for long distance sailors he recommends that they buy a cheap coastal life raft as opposed to the more robust offshore version because, "Any more, once you hit the EPIRB button, help is on the way. Nobody floats around out there anymore." Well.... maybe, unless your signal did not get through, or conditions are too rough to send out the rescue party.

I, for one, am more comfortable backing up that EPIRB with a good raft, a well stocked ditch kit, and a crew trained in the use of those tools of survival.

I used to tell cruising seminar audiences that the most dangerous piece of equipment on their boat was their calendar. I said that because moving to artificial date or deadline is a formula for disaster at sea. But running a close second is the boom, that head-crushing bludgeon, all too often poorly controlled. I use a simple and affordable preventer system that ensures that the boom is secured 100 percent of the time, and I do not have to leave the cockpit to adjust it when changing tacks.


Alvah Simon
Aside from creating a secure work station at the mast, the "granny bars' are a great step up to work on the mainsail or scout ahead. But note the leather non-skid on the top of the granny bar rail.

Next, I focus on every inch of the deck for areas notorious for boat bites - perforated toe rails, raised deck hardware in areas of high traffic, etc. A severely cut or broken toe can be a serious medical issue a thousand miles offshore.

I purposely walk the docks in my bare feet and then mimic every move I make in a typical day of sailing - reefing the main, deploying the anchor, and launching the dinghy. I then follow my dirty footprints around the boat to find footfalls in areas without proper non-skid, such as slippery hatches, rounded coach roof sides, cockpit combings, etc. I then glue down non-skid in those areas.

The French fist appeared with what were condescendingly referred to as "granny bars" or "sissy bars." These hip-high mast pulpits, as they are properly called, keep you safely contained onboard while still allowing the use of both hands for the sailing tasks at the mast. They also make a great step up for stowing the main and spotting ahead, if they too have non-skid over the top of the rail.

The modern life-line seems to be measured at just the right height to pitch the average human being overboard. Nevertheless, it is an essential last line of defense to prevent that dreaded man overboard situation. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the average life-line has a dozen connections - tangs, shackles, clevis pins, turnbuckles, etc. Check every connection meticulously, mouse off the shackles, tape off the split pins, check the wire for wear and hardening, especially near any swedges.

Perhaps more important than the life-lines are the jack-lines. A jack-line, especially when run well inboard, ensures that any crew moving forward is secured to the vessel at all times by a stout sliding tether, and cannot be pitched overboard. On the Roger Henry we attach our safety harness lanyards to these jack-lines even before coming up into the cockpit.

Make sure that cockpit grates are well secured to the seats and sole, for a boarding sea can turn these into bone breakers. Also, keep the decks clean. When those diesel cans, barbeques, and surfboards come loose, all hell breaks loose with them.

There are too many more small yet serious areas of importance to list here, but I am sure that if you approach your vessel slowly with a preemptive and investigative eye, you will uncover and correct many safety defects. And that can only mean many more miles of accident and injury free sailing.

Until next time,


Boating NZ