White Dot Sailing was involved for a 2nd year with the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, but this time, as part of the safety inspection team. Having been subjected to a safety inspection last year as a participating boat, it was interesting to be on the other side of the fence.
The World Cruising Club prepare a minimum list of safety requirements in their Rally Handbook detailing what a boat needs to be considered, in their eyes, fit for sea. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but one devised from the accumulation of experience within the WCC’s core team. Depending on the skipper/owner, the requirements can be treated as: a comprehensive checklist, a framework for building a viable safety infrastructure on the other or anything in between. Having had the privilege of stepping aboard a variety of yachts: a new build 60ft trimaran, a professionally run CNB 76, a new 40ft Lagoon catamaran straight from the factory, a classic Malo and a double handed J-133 amongst others– there were several common themes that emerged.
Old vs. New...
A theme that covered many topics within the safety team's ongoing discussions with boat owners; be it methods, products, or recognised standards within the industry. Can an inflatable MOB recovery module with regular service intervals be as reliable as a fixed danbuoy attached to a horseshoe buoy? The MCA have now revoked approval for inflatable danbuoys on coded vessels- preferring fixed buoyant poles attached to foam horseshoe buoys on any vessel operating outside of categories 5 & 6.
Are LED flares, even if safer and longer lasting, reliable enough to be used in life threatening situations? This Practical Boat Owner article seems to think so. Arguing that pyrotechnics make an already life-threatening situation more dangerous, would you like to activate a traditional flare whilst in an inflated life raft? There is an argument for popping orange smoke to assist a rescue helicopter with wind direction, but most other operations seem to be within the capabilities of a modern electronic flare now.
There are simpler cases though where technology is complimenting existing methods, like personal AIS beacons fitted to a lifejacket. With lights, whistles and reflective tape already attached, the AIS beacon is an addition which will help the yacht equipped with an AIS receiver find the casualty quicker and with more success.
Fitted but not checked...
Having the correct safety equipment on board is one thing, but is it correctly mounted and ready to go? The team found around 1 in 5 liferaft painter lines were not attached to a secure point on the boat or hydrostatic unit, meaning if thrown overboard by a panicked crew member, it would just float away without inflating. Many service intervals on inflatable recovery systems had lapsed, or were unknown. In most cases this equipment sits on the yacht’s push pit and is exposed to the elements all year round.
The team found one type of lifejacket light had a high rate of failure inherent in it’s design. This light used a lead with a moisture sensor at the end, it turned on automatically when wet. This lead worked its way down to the lower ends of the lifejacket when worn. It was thought that when the lifejacket was stowed away still wet, the light activated and stayed on until the lowest (last) part of the lifejacket dried, draining the battery. In another case a recently serviced lifejacket had been returned with no replacement light at all, the owner had assumed the service was thorough and hadn’t double checked the jacket.
What became apparent was the need to monitor your safety kit, devise a monthly test regime to make sure it’s all functioning correctly.
Right kit, but where did I put it?
Many boats had a good amount of safety kit on board, but hadn’t thought through the best stowage plan for it or indeed fully comprehended what the contents were. A common example being liferafts and grab bags. Many didn’t know the contents of each or the cumulative total. Knowing exactly how much water and food you will have in a survival situation is important, an ISO 9650 liferaft rated for more than 24hrs at sea has 1.5lts of water per person. Are you happy with that amount? Have you made up the amount in your life raft or grab bag alone, or a mixture of the two? Do you have sun cream, first aid kits and a means of communicating with a rescue vessel? All these contents should ideally be listed and supplemented if needed. Make sure your safety kit is stowed in a sensible and easily accessible place too.
Check, check, check
Most boats had sufficient (in the eyes of WCC) equipment on board, but some lacked a coordinated safety plan covering the most likely incidents. A thoroughly prepared boat utilises various safety devices in multiple scenarios, each having redundancy built in. A well-equipped boat will have thought about the kit they have onboard: LED and pyrotechnic flares, fixed and inflatable recovery systems, as well as a sensible stowage plan and well briefed crew. Make sure you have done a sea survival course, the safety team held a demonstration morning on flares and life raft inflation, and for some, this was their first experience of both. Practice safety techniques on your boat, if they work for you- great. It’s a part of sailing that many don’t like to think about. Finally, once you have all this onboard create a monitoring system to make sure it works when you need it.
Best new piece of safety kit: Personal AIS recovery devices worn inside lifejackets.
Old but still a must have: The classic Throwing Line, but make sure it’s within reach.
Be wary of: Inflatable Danbuoy’s and other recovery devices that don’t meet ISO requirements, and haven’t been serviced within the recommended intervals.