I enjoy weeknight racing during the season and especially bringing people that are new to sailing out on the boat to experience the fun and excitement of duking it out in a low-key manner — and catching a great sunset to boot. I have had people on my boat for years and years and, although the majority of our adventures are trouble-free, at times we’ve blown out sails, had the engine die, broken the boom vang and experienced plenty of other minor glitches. My crew always manages to piece it all back together and keep the fun going, yet we’ve never had an incident that required the skills we learned at any of the safety-at sea seminars we’ve attended.
Most sailors I know introduce someone to the sport each year and, aside from the simple, ‘Here’s where the lifejackets are’ speech, many don’t go through a full safety briefing every time someone new comes aboard…and I am no different. As I thought about my pre-season to-do list for the boat, I realized something very important was missing. I decided that along with sanding and painting the bottom, commissioning all of the boat’s systems, and myriad other tasks, this year my crew would practice man overboard drills and try to prepare for other shipboard problems that might arise.
As often happens during weeknight racing, crewmembers rush from the office to arrive at the boat in time to get the sails up and maybe do a few tacks before the gun sounds. Like many other boats in our weeknight series, we often barely make it to the line in time for our start. Many of our crew have obligations – at work or at home – that make it difficult to get down to the club and onto the launch much before the boat is slipping from the dock, or the mooring. That same scenario prevails when we bring new people aboard, and during the 10-minute blast out to the course we give a quick tutorial of ‘how things go’ on the boat, from pre-start through flaking the sails, where the PFDs are, how to use the head, where the snacks are, and any other helpful hints, mostly to increase everyone’s comfort. We also squeeze in a few safety tips on how to keep clear of lines, tacking sails and anything else that might get a new crewmember in trouble.
Luckily, we’ve not had to contend with a genuine emergency – large or small – and a full safety drill hadn’t been on our pre-season radar for the past few years. It is now. I’m confident my crew will embrace the idea of practicing live drills and during the season, should disaster strike, we’d be able to handle it.
It’s still early in the season, and although I am sure many of you have already launched your boats, there is no time like the present to call a crew meeting to discuss safety protocol and then go out and practice what to do in an emergency. Simply knowing what to do is not enough. As America’s Cup veteran, short-handed racing legend and safety-at-sea guru Rich duMoulin asserts, “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.”
Be proactive and spend the time to ensure you’re prepared for the “what may come,” because that’s usually when something is going to go awry.
See you on the water.