Safety on board a sailing boat is high priority, especially with kids.
In preparation for our summer cruise we’ve been taking stock of our floatation devices and other safety equipment. In the process we realise, that on a boat like Mariposa, that has been used for casual weekend sailing, there is so much to add to improve the safety equipment on-board. Sadly, we don’t have a bottomless pit of money, so there are some compromises to be made. These are tough decisions balancing cost, probability and consequences if the SHTF*.
*SHTF= the shit hits the fan
Lifejackets aka PFDs
Lifejackets for the kids
The kids have lifejackets and they know that whenever they are on-board, even in the cockpit they need to wear them.
Last summer we had several arguments with Hugo, who found it very uncomfortable to have his PFD on in the heat and hated swimming in it. I can understand why, as the crouch strap really did cut in as he jumped off the bow repeatedly.
This year I foresee similar debates. To our advantage we can use some of the facts we learnt while visiting the maritime museum in Tallinn, which had an excellent section dedicated to sea safety and the lessons learnt from the MS Estonia ferry tragedy of 1994. Last year we were on the Lake Balaton, which was a balmy 25C and our agreement was that if it was a relatively calm day and Hugo could swim 3 times around the boat, he didn’t have to wear his lifejacket. This year we will be on the Baltic, where the sea temperatures will unlikely rise above 20C in the height of summer. We will be revising what we learnt about hyperthermia on the first occasion of the necessity of lifejackets being questioned.
I think it’s really important for them to understand the reasoning behind having to wear a lifejacket even if they can swim (which, being on a waterpolo team, they can do rather well).
I have considered looking for alternative designs for them…maybe as the season progresses we might try
Lifejackets for us, adults
We have a pair of lifejackets with built-in harnesses from about 10 years ago, (when we crewed on boats for weekend club races in the Solent.) A couple of weeks ago I dug them out of the cupboard in Oxford and packed them to fly to Sweden. They had live cartridges in them, which had expired by just “few” years. I thought this was a fantastic opportunity to test them. And I did! I videoed myself and it was truly hilarious watching it back. I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to share though. 😀
Today, as I was going through our list of safety items, I realised that I need to get new cartridges and triggers for our lifejackets. I called the manufacturer to ask how I’d go about getting these cartridges. To my utter surprise I found out that lifejackets should be serviced once every year or 2 years, even if they have been hiding in a cosy and dry wardrobe for the past couple of year. The person I spoke to was a bit condescending, saying you wouldn’t just take your old parachute and jump out of plane without having it checked by a service centre before. (I sort of didn’t agree with him, because if I was qualified for parachuting, I would want to ensure that my chute was in top order and packed properly myself.) Thankfully he also pointed me to one of their Swedish distributors, Ekens Naval, who were super helpful and down-to-earth. The chap I spoke to at Ekens was really thinking along with me, and realised it didn’t make sense for me to drive 200km to get our jackets serviced. He suggested:
- Check all the parts of the jacket thoroughly for any fraying or damage
- Do a 24 hour inflation test: inflate the jacket with a compressor or pump (but NOT by mouth) and check that 24 hours later it is still fully inflated
- Change the trigger and cartridge. He was able to supply these, but also reassured me that our jackets took the standard cartridges, I just needed to ensure I was using the right carbon dioxide cartridge (which is stated on the jacket in grams- ours takes 33g cartridges)
- If in doubt, take the jackets for service afterall or buy new ones.
Lifejacket for the dog
Last week I finally bought a lifejacket that fits Alice! That was attempt number 3, as the previous 2 had turned out too big on her. When I saw the advert in a magazine with a sausage dog, I knew that jacket would fit Alice. Now she has a super bright Baltic pet lifejacket in a cat and extra small dog size (and she has been so excited about it whenever she’s had it on that I cannot keep her still enough to snap a super cute picture! … so here you have the picture that originally inspired me to buy this pet lifejacket. :-D)
We will also carry a couple of spare life jackets on-board for guests.
Tethering to deck
We have a couple of flat straps on Mariposa which we can use to run between the bow and the cockpit. In addition we need to get two tethers, that can be used to hook ourselves onto the safety line if we hit rough weather or are night sailing and need to leave the cockpit. (The kids have no safety harness built into their lifejackets, so they won’t be able to be tethered and doing any deck work.)
Netting on the lifeline
Last week I bought 15 meters of netting to go on the lifelines (with the remainder to be used for increasing our storage, especially clothes storage capacity in the cabins.) This is the main protection for the dog.
We also have a set of stainless steel handholds to install on the cabin roof. This is multi-purpose: to give kids and me (as I’m pretty clumsy) an extra handhold as we move forward on the deck, and also to provide our solar shower with lashing points.
Our man over-board aids
A life ring hung on the transom and a floating throwing line seem common sense basics. Both of these (or a combined set like Baltic’s Lifesaver) I still need to buy before we launch this weekend.
We’ve agreed as a family that in our first week of sailing we will do at least one MOB drill a day, so we all get practice in what needs to happen. Our drills won’t be with actually one of us going into the water as the Baltic is an uncomfortable 9C at the moment. I learnt and took my practical exam using an empty Coke bottle. Now, I wonder if it is still environmentally acceptable to use an empty PET bottle… I guess it is, as long as we have sea room to recover it even if we miss a couple of times. Any other suggestions for what to use for MOB drill is very welcome!
Mariposa came with a nice box of flares… which are all out of date. So we not only have to buy new ones, but find a way to dispose of the old ones. Do we launch them as a practice?
Fire blanket and fire extinguisher
Both of these are migrating over from Campyvan for the sailing season, so I don’t have to purchase either of these.
Carbon monoxide alarm
Our battery powered CO alarm is also borrowed from Campyvan. Mariposa has a spiritus stove, so the CO is not as big a threat as with a gas stove; the spiritus is supposed to run out before it can use up all our O2.
I’m tending towards a handheld, floating VHF instead of a built-in system on the boat. If money and electricity supply (Mariposa is a small boat with a limited battery bank) were not an issue, I’d get a radar, but at least an AIS receiver and sender together with a hand held and a built-in VHS.
For now, I’m on the lookout for a decent VHS which is:
- waterproof and floating,
- rugged design to cope with mishandling by kids as they pass it to helmsperson.
- has a 5-6 mile transmitting range, as well as the 1-2 nm range
- lithium-ion batteries with a possible back up of regular batteries
- …am I missing anything essential?
- built-in GPS and DCS would be a bonus
(Watch this space for what we end up buying and our review during the summer)
On the weekend I picked up a radar reflector and fixed the radar reflector high up on the mast. Thankfully the mast was still lying down in storage, so it was easy to drill 2 small, self-tapping stainless steel screws in and bed the radar reflector down into some sikaflex. The radar reflector was designed to be hoisted on some lines, but I had nightmares of the lines loosening and the reflector clanking against the mast as we try to sleep.
First Aid kit
We have about 3 first aid kits, which I rotate based on what were are doing where we are going. Our big kit lives in Campyvan normally, but will move onto Mariposa for the summer. A smaller kit will also come cruising with us, as that is the one we take on hikes and our travels. I have a mental note and have included it on my checklist to have our smaller kit live in our grab bag. Besides the usual kit for wound dressing and medicines our first aid kit always includes one or two space blankets too.
My favourite torch is a rechargeable torch from Vango that also charges with kinetic energy (by pulling a cord repeatedly). This is not a very strong torch nor is it waterproof, but it is very versatile.
Years ago, on a long passage in the Mediterranean Sea I learnt the importance of having a very strong torch for night sailing. We avoided hitting a couple of small unlit fishing boats thanks to that torch. It was also very useful for shining on the sails at night to check how they were performing and to indicate to nearby motoring vessels that we are under sail power. (I know, not quite the official way, but effective none-the-less)
On my wish list is a good waterproof torch.
Now this is a decision, as discussed in blog post about dinghies and liferafts, I’m hating to make: the likelihood of needing it is so low, on the other hand, if we do need it, then it will increase our likelihood of survival in the cold waters.
Having chatted to various sales people, the purchase is not straightforward either:
- Do we buy a 4 person or a 6 person liferaft?
A liferaft is more stable with the number of people it is designed for occupying it. We’re a family of 5, with young children, so currently a 4 man version is the best. However, within the 12 year lifespan of a properly serviced liferaft the kids will outgrow the 4 person liferaft. Do I future-proof?
- Where do we mount it?
Initially I thought it’s a no-brainer it goes in a canister on the cabin room. Then at the Stockholm boat show we walked through a rescue scenario of me being incapacitated for some reason and the kids having to launch the liferaft. Immediately a transom mounted canister sounds so much more sensible.
An EPIRB or a PLB
An electronic location indicator that can lead emergency services to us in case of distress. This is for situations when there is a real SHTF situation. My head is exploding on choices to make- do we get a full EPIRB for the boat or do we purchase a personal life beacon? Is it an overkill for our current sailing plans?
Have we forgotten anything from our sailboat safety gear list?
For my own budgeting purposes as well as anyone who might find it helpful, I’ve pulled together a list of Sailboat safety gear on Amazon too>>> HERE
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