Safety is paramount when sailing, but it’s very easy to overload new or inexperienced crew with too much information. As a skipper It’s important to gauge the depth of safety brief for the type of trip, the experience of the crew and your and the crew’s prior knowledge of the boat. It is your responsibility to ensure the safety of the boat and crew, so a balance between essential information and overloading the crew should be sought.
A day sail with friends
Spending 2 – 3 hours looking at all the safety equipment, including life raft is not necessary if you’re planning a short sail in sheltered waters on your own boat or a boat you have sailed on before. You should concentrate on practical safety, like life jackets, winches, clutches and how to move about the boat safely. If you are planning on taking inexperienced friends, it is important to ensure they are aware of the dangers of sailing. Ensure that there is another experienced sailor on board, that person should be briefed more thoroughly than any novice crew, including what to do if you (as the skipper) have become incapacitated. Aim to spend 20 – 30 minutes with the crew, try to keep your safety brief, brief and to the point to keep your audience’s attention
A weekend away, possible night sailing
If you are planning a longer weekend or perhaps a channel trip or a trip, which may include some night sailing, then you should ensure that you spend more time on safety with the crew. How to start and stop the engine, when and where to clip on, how to switch the gas on and off, fire extinguishers, life raft, flares and grab bag to name but a few. The safety brief can become a lot longer so consider how you are going to ensure the crew remain attentive. As you will likely be storing provisions etc, try to incorporate the safety brief along with getting the boat ready, and consider splitting the brief into two parts, a below deck brief the evening before you sail and an on deck brief on the morning you leave the pontoon. If it is a longer trip, you may be sailing with more experienced crew, but bear in mind any beginner sailors, sailors with limited experience or rusty sailors who may not have sailed for a period of time. If you have chartered a boat for the trip, ensure you, as skipper, are aware of the location of all safety equipment and you are comfortable with how everything works. Ensure that you have a nominated someone as a first mate. Again you may need to spend a bit of extra time with them showing them the location of stop cocks, storm sails emergency tiller etc.
Longer passage of multiple days
If you are planning a longer passage or race then you might want to consider a day or a weekend shakedown. The sole purpose of this is to go through the boat ensuring the crew know where all the safety equipment is located and how to use it. Locate the stop cocks, service the winches, check your engine, set the storm sails etc. Perhaps consider taking the boat out and use this as an opportunity to set all the reefs, so the crew have had an opportunity to practice this before the trip commences. Will you be sailing through the night in watches? Get the crew to practice tacking and gybing as a watch as well as reefing, this will save you having to wake the off watch if such a manoeuvre is required in the middle of the night. As you will no doubt have an experienced crew most will find it useful and to give the crew the opportunity to ask lots of questions. Again ensure that you have nominated someone as a first mate.
Some skippers will have certain things they tell all crew regardless of the length and type of trip on which they are embarking. This may be because of personal experience or there may be a particular quirk of the boat. As you become more experienced you will develop your own style and list of items you prefer to include in your brief.
Below is a comprehensive although not exhaustive list that you could use as the basis of a safety brief.
Use of Winches
Location of strong points for harnesses
Use of Jack Stays
Moving around on deck
Starting and stopping engine
Hanking on your sails
Location of Fire Extinguishers and there use
Location of First Aid Box
Use of VHF and how to send a Mayday
Gas Alarm and action to take if it goes off
Location of Lifejackets and harnesses, how to fit them and when they should be worn Location of Flares
Use of Heads
Use of electrical panel
Safety is an important element, as skipper you are responsible for the boat and the crew. Elements are covered in more details during the RYA Day Skipper theory course. If you would like to attend one of our classroom courses in London or perhaps complete the course on line please contact us on 020 7002 7676, or email [email protected]