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Sailing for Beginners: A Guide to Ensuring the Safety of Guests on Your Boat

As Captain, it’s your responsibility to ensure all preparations are completed before you set off on your trip, and that your guests are comfortable and safe on-board. You also need to teach everyone on board basic procedures such as stopping the boat and using the radio to call for help, in case you’re incapacitated or knocked overboard. The temptation may be there to get your voyage underway with the intentions of supplying the information later on, but this isn’t recommended – safety needs to be everyone’s first priority while at sea, and this should start as soon as you’re boarding. Read on for nine essential tips to ensure the safety of guests on your boat!

#1 Complete pre-departure checklists

To ensure safety of guests on your boat, it’s a great idea to have a pre-departure checklist. You can find comprehensive, printable checklists online, or alternatively, design your own. This will ensure the small details are taken care of and you can be confident that everyone is as safe and secure as possible. Here are some examples of what your checklist should include:

.   Check expected weather conditions
.   Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return (float plan)
.   Check fuel and oil levels
.   Suitable clothing and shoes. Inform your guests in advance what type of clothing and shoes they should bring; dress in layers to keep as warm and dry as possible
.   Passports and any other personal documents
.   Check there are no suspicious odours, such as diesel, or loose wiring below deck
.   Ensure you have a fully stocked first aid kit, flares and fire extinguishers
.   Open the seacock for engine water intake
.   Check bilges for leaks
.   Check you have the required paper charts – keep them somewhere convenient
.   Test all electronics – lights, radar, navigation equipment etc.
.   Turn the VHF radio to the correct channel

Safety of Guests on Your Boat
Photo Gilles Martin Raget

#2 Prepare suitable meals, snacks and drinks

The effects of seasickness are felt more acutely on an empty stomach. Have a meal before you set off, and prepare a variety of light snacks and meals to enjoy on board. You’ll also need to pack plenty of water and other soft drinks. It’s not a good idea to allow alcohol at any time on your boat – it leads to sickness and greatly increases the chances of an accident. Ensure you have medicine for seasickness close to hand in case any of your guests are affected.

#3 Research the area you’ll be sailing in

Sailing can present many challenges – ensure you familiarize yourself with the area as much as possible. Always stay a safe distance away from other boats and ensure you follow all traffic regulations and navigational rules.

Safety of guests on your boat: it’s vital for everyone on board to know how to stop the boat in an emergency, in case you’re knocked overboard or incapacitated in another way.

#4 Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) and lifebelts

All guests and crew should ensure their PFD fits correctly before the trip. Ensure children’s PFDs fit correctly, and children under 12 must wear their PFD at all times while on board. You’ll also need to show everyone where throwable PFDs are kept.

If the wind increases while on the boat, lifebelts should be used by everyone. Remember, lifebelts should never be connected to the boat’s rail – they require a stable point to secure to. It’s a good idea for younger guests or any individuals who aren’t fully confident around water to wear a lifebelt at all times on board.

Safety of guests on your boat: ensure children’s PFDs fit correctly, and children under 12 must wear their PFD at all times while on board.

#5 Show all guests how to stop the boat in an emergency

It’s vital for everyone on board to know how to stop the boat in an emergency, in case you’re knocked overboard or incapacitated in another way. Demonstrate how to stop the boat both under power and under sail; you can demonstrate how to turn the boat around once you’ve set off, but as a minimum, everyone should be able to stop the boat. You also need to demonstrate how to switch off the boats engine, as the prop presents a serious danger to the person in the water.

#6 Explain the ‘man overboard’ procedure

It’s vital to inform all your guests that if a ‘man overboard’ situation happens, you’ll need everyone’s help to ensure the person is rescued from the water as quickly and calmly as possible. These are the steps that should be followed:

.   Shout ‘man overboard’ as loudly and clearly as possible
.   Throw life rings towards the person in the water with any other PFDs on board – the extra floating objects will provide the person with more buoyancy, as well as helping you see their position clearly once the boat is turned around
.   One individual should maintain visual contact with the person in the water at all times, constantly pointing towards them
.   All others on board should be ready for your instructions to prepare the lifeboat or sling and assist with controlling the sails

Safety of guests on your boat: on-board safety is a vital consideration for you and your passengers, and should always be at the forefront of your mind.

#7 Show guests where the fire extinguishers are located

Make sure all your guests know where to find an extinguisher in an emergency. You’ll also need to demonstrate how to release them from the wall brackets, and give instructions on how to use them.

#8 Demonstrate how to use the boat’s radio to call for help

Your guests may assume that they can simply use their smartphones to call for help if an emergency occurs on board. Explain that should something happen, using the VHF radio is a much better option as they may not have cell cover. Even if they do, the radio is still the better option as the Coastguard is virtually guaranteed to hear any call for assistance (if you’re in US waters.)

Other boats nearby may also hear a radio call and be able to render assistance. Unless you’re near land and your guests are familiar with the local landmarks, you should ensure your GPS is turned on constantly so the Coastguard can be directed to your position. Check that at least one individual understands how to give your position using longitude and latitude.

Safety of guests on your boat: your guests may assume that they can simply use their smartphones to call for help if an emergency occurs on board.

#9 Sail at a safe speed in crowded waters

Crowded waters are particularly tricky to navigate, especially if you don’t have much sailing experience. Ensure you’re completely focused while steering the boat and pay particular attention to larger boats, which take much longer to turn or stop.  Be aware of navigational aids in the water and keep a respectful distance from them; they are there for everyone’s safety.

Hopefully, you now feel more confident about taking guests on your boat for the first time.

On-board safety is a vital consideration for you and your passengers, and should always be at the forefront of your mind. Ensure that you begin explaining safety procedures before you set off, and ensure PFDs and lifebelts are worn at the appropriate times. If you’ve been a guest on someone’s boat and sustained injuries because they haven’t explained the proper safety procedures to you, you might be entitled to compensation. If you think you have a case, it might be a good idea to consult corpus christi personal injury attorney.

The aim of discussing on-board safety is not to worry or intimidate your guests, but simply to make them aware of basic procedures and how they can assist you in an emergency situation. You can then all relax and enjoy the trip, knowing that everyone is prepared.

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