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2012 April - Safety at Sea

I spoke with UK-Halsey’s Adam Loory following the Hands-on Safety at Sea Seminar held at SUNY Maritime last month. Adam, along with Storm Trysail Club Past Commodore Butch Ulmer, was instrumental in getting this year’s seminar underway. We discussed how far along this type of educational experience has come, and the tremendous benefit it provides to crew and vessel safety.

CompassWhen the Storm Trysail Foundation decided to offer a seminar to the many sailors in the area, they looked to Rob Crafa, the Director of Waterfront Programs at SUNY Maritime, who was able to offer an ideal venue and support. Furthermore, the instructors from the US Merchant Marine Academy provided their extensive knowledge base to the effort.

This particular seminar – a herculean task – was executed successfully due to the coordinated efforts of city, state and government officials, maritime academy instructors, industry specialists and qualified experts. It was attended by 200 sailors of all ages, backgrounds and skill levels. Some of sailing’s top professionals, including Ralph Naranjo (Moderator), Ralf Steitz (President of the USMMA Sailing Foundation), CDR Chris Gasiorek (USMMA Waterfront Director), Rick Dominique (USMMA Director of Varsity Programs), Dr. Kim Zeh (Emergency Physician), Dan O’Connor (President of Life Raft + Survival Equipment Inc.), Ken Campbell (President of Commanders’ Weather), Richard du Moulin (Storm Trysail Club Safety-at-Sea Chairman), Chris Branning (US Coast Guard - Emergency Communications), Captain Henry Marx (President of Landfall), and Brook West (Darien, CT Fire Department), came together to volunteer their time.

For those of you who have yet to attend a hands-on Safety at Sea seminar, this is no classroom chalk talk. These particular seminars (held every two years in conjunction with the start of the Bermuda Race) have been refined over the years to take into account as many situations that might occur, in as many types of shipboard emergencies as possible. Also addressed are advancements in technology, first aid and response methods.

The on-the-water session included setting storm sails, reefing and crew-overboard drills. On land, participants practiced fire fighting, using live fire and extinguishers, emergency medical treatment, pyrotechnics (use of safety flares) and damage control (with an actual bow section of a 40- foot boat hooked up to a hose, where three different types of damage – a split hose, broken thru-hull fitting and a hull breach – were repaired). In a swimming pool, each participant practiced deploying and entering a life raft. Additionally, weather and emergency radio communication was discussed.

No matter what type of boating you enjoy, whether you’re making an offshore passage, doing the Bermuda Race or daysailing on Long Island Sound, attending a safety-at-sea seminar is a valuable experience. No one can predict when disaster might strike and there is no guarantee that any amount of training can resolve every problem at sea, but sailors can work on preventative maintenance, methods of damage control, and reducing exposure, injury or even loss of life.

Using Sir Ernest Shackleton as a reference, Rich du Moulin began his Damage Control presentation by addressing this very notion. Hands-on exercises make us think ahead so we can better prepare ourselves and our equipment and thus remain calmer so that we may adapt and prevail.

I took this seminar a few years ago and learned techniques and skills that I never knew existed. What was eye-opening was that what I’d learned on a chalkboard, practiced over and over in my head and thought I had a grasp of, was different and far more difficult than I imagined. Maneuvering to climb into a life raft with full gear on…under serene, warm water conditions in a pool…was difficult enough. I respect anyone that has ever had to do so in real storm conditions. Putting out a fire under controlled circumstances takes longer and is more difficult than one would think. To approach a real person in the water, attach a halyard to them and successfully winch them aboard is quite different than a seat cushion or life vest, I assure you.

The Storm Trysail Foundation, with the help of its members, experts and academies like the USMMA and SUNY Maritime, are continually raising the bar on these sessions. They are working to help all sailors, young and old, to increase safety at sea. The STF has been doing their junior safety at sea seminars for years – and they get better and more comprehensive every session. This year, they will be held in Larchmont, NY, Stonington, CT, Annapolis, MD, Newport, RI, Boston, MA, Shelter Island, NY and Perth Amboy, NJ.

Consider attending a safety at sea seminar. The skills you learn may one day save your vessel, or someone’s life. And, when the next available hands-on safety at sea seminar is offered, sign up! As one participant said, ‘it was the best money I ever spent on anything educational!’

See you on the water!

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