Crew members must be aware of the potential dangers and be aware of how to move safely around. The cockpit provides the safest place on deck when sailing offering security to the crew on-watch.
On deck, the risk is of a man falling overboard and the precautions are defined in two stages; firstly preventing people going overboard and secondly ensuring their survival if they do. Fit Jackstays (safety lines) along each side deck making it possible to move from the cockpit to the bow without having to unclip the harness line. Each crew's line should be short enough to prevent the person from going overboard if they fall.
Make crew aware when standing and sitting on deck, to be aware which sheets, blocks, and other fittings are under load and not placing themselves in the way of a loaded sheet. Equipment fails under load causing broken equipment and ropes to whip around causing injury. When walking on deck, avoid standing on ropes or sails, as they move underfoot throwing the person off balance.
Move from the cockpit to the deck in rough weather only if necessary with planned movements using the windward side deck. Keep body weight low to aid balance even if this means crawling along the deck.
Personal sailing safety harnesses should be worn on deck at all times except in calm conditions or when anchored. Several types of marine safety harnesses are available with some waterproof jackets having a built-in safety harness. A separate sailing safety harness is more useful as it can be worn at any time and some harnesses have an incorporated life jacket. Sailing safety harnesses require strong points built into the yacht including U bolts around the cockpit, with one that can be reached from the hatch before emerging.
The responsibility for telling crew when to wear harness and marine life jackets or PFD lies with the skipper. Marine life jackets or PFDs must be of an approved type for the sailing conditions and stowed in an accessible position. Two types of life jacket or PFD are available:
- one that depends on foam for buoyancy is bulky and annoying when worn for a long time; and
- gas-inflated inflatable life jacket which are less cumbersome but expensive and needs to be maintained.
Lifebuoys are stowed where they are reached immediately when someone goes overboard and effective only if they are thrown at once to the crew in the water. Lifebuoys are stowed in quick-release brackets on the pushpit. A lifebuoy should be fitted with a flashing strobe light so if fitted,check regularly and replace dead batteries. To increase the effectiveness of a lifebuoy, attach a danbuoy, a weighted, brightly coloured floating marker pole about 2m (6ft) high which is more visible than a person or a lifebuoy in the water. Danbuoys are available in solid or inflatable form and should be stowed along with the lifebuoy on the pushpit.
Yachts tend to have decks with a considerable height above the water (freeboard) making it difficult to retrieve someone back on board. One solution is a bathing platform in the stern, or a fold down boarding ladder but if neither of these is available, carry one of the devices for winching the person onboard using a halyard.
With an emergency when the yacht is sinking, bilge pumps play an important part in gaining vital seconds as emergency repairs are made. The appropriate type of bilge pump being the diaphragm type that operates even with an amount of debris in the water
A yacht should have at least two bilge pumps, one of which must be manual bilge pump and should be sited within reach of the helmsman.
Usually, they are used to remove water that accumulates in the bilge. The pick-up hose leads to the deepest part of the bilge and is fitted with a strainer preventing debris
blocking the pump. With shallow bilges two pick-up hoses may be required - one to port and one to starboard so that water can be pumped no matter which side the boat is heeled. Separate watertight compartments either have their own bilge pumps or are plumbed to the main one.
Electric automatic bilge pumps supplement the manual bilge pump and usually are fitted with float switches which automatically activate the bilge pump when the bilge water rises. Offshore cruisers usually have a damage-control pump which removes large amounts of water in the event of a holing. Maintain all pumps by stripping and cleaning and test regularly.
An essential for a sea-going yacht is a inflatable life raft suitable for the number of people carried. Some inflatable dinghies are acceptable as dual-purpose tenders and inflatable life rafts however; they lack two important features of a life raft:
- water pockets on the underside to reduce drift and capsize, and
- a canopy to shelter the occupants.
A life raft is packed inside a canister or valise and often stowed on deck, lashed down with quick-release fastenings.
Attracting attention is the next process, and the ships radio is the first choice enabling immediate contact with rescue services. Water when the boat being flooded, has the tendency to short out the electrics and hence making the installed marine VHF radio useless. Consider carrying one handheld vhf radio that can be taken onto the life raft.
Most yachts carry a VHF (very high frequency) radio and some also use MF (medium frequency) radio. Marine VHF radio is limited to line-of-sight operation between transmitting and receiving stations, meaning reception of about 65km (40 miles) from a coastal radio station or 15km (10 miles) between yachts at sea. MF radio has a longer range of about 320km (200 miles) but is expensive and requires more power.
To install a radio, a ship's licence is required along with the user needing marine VHF radio licence. Modern Marine VHF radios conform to the GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) and are fitted with Digital Selective Calling which triggers the sending of an automatic distress signal identifying the vessel in distress as well as transmitting its position if connected to a GPS set.
On dated radios, distress, urgency, and safety signals are transmitted on VHF Channel 16 or 2182kHz on an MF transmitter by international agreement. The radiotelephony distress signal is the word MAYDAY indicating the vessel is in grave and immediate danger. The safety signal, is the word SE'CURITE spoken three times in succession, indicating the transmitting station is about to transmit an important safety, navigational, or weather warning.
EPIRB (emergency-position-indicating radio beacon) is another radio aid on yachts sailing offshore. EPIRBs can be manually or automatically activated transmitting a distress signal to GMDSS satellites which in turn locate the EPIRB's position relaying the information to a rescue co-ordination centre.
When purchasing an EPIRB, the name and details of the vessel to which it belongs are registered so that search and rescue services have this information at the time an EPIRB is activated.
The uncertainty with marine distress flares is that you cannot get a response when they have been seen, and the service they render is to identify a vessel needing help when a helicopter or lifeboat is out searching. Coloured smoke flares are for attracting the attention of aircraft, while rockets are sighted from sea level while hand-held distress flares cannot be seen from a long distance.
What determines the number and type of distress flares carried on a boat is the type of sailing that is done:
- In-shore Zone being up to 3 miles from shore carry 2 red hand flares and 2 orange hand smoke flares.
- If sailing for the day in Coastal Zone being up to 7 miles from shore carry 2 red hand flares, 2 red parachute rocket flares and 2 orange hand smoke flares
- If sailing at night or in fog, carry a few white flares to signal the position of the boat to avoid potential collisions.
- If sailing in an Off-shore Zone being over 7 miles from shore carry 4 red hand flares, 4 red parachute rocket flares and 2 buoyant orange smoke flares along with adding a floating dye marker.
Instruct all the crew in the use the distress flares.
- Parachute Flare is a red flare which fires a bright red flare up to 300m (1,000ft) that burns for about 40 seconds. Use when some distance from help. Not good in low cloud and are better fired downwind under the cloud.
- Buoyant Smoke Flare is orange and once ignited is dropped into the water leeward of boat and emits dense orange smoke. Used for signalling position to searching aircraft. Burns for about two minutes.
- Mini-Flares are red flares for personal use and kept in the jacket pocket and are the hand-held or rocket type being useful in man-overboard situations.
Keep protective gloves in flare pack and don't use flares past expiry date. Hand held distress flares burn at 2000 degrees so safety measures must be taken before using distress flares. Move to the leeward side of the boat, hold flare at the base, point flare end up and away from you, ignite and hold high and outboard. Dispose of flare in water when finished burning.
Use hand held flares that are type approved for the conditions or time of day:
- White Flare is not a distress signal but warns other vessels of your presence and is stowed one within easy reach of the helmsman.
- Red Flare burns with a bright red light for about a minute with a range of about 5km (3 miles) indicating your position when within sight of assistance.
- Orange Smoke Flare emits bright orange smoke and burns for about 40 seconds and used in light winds during daylight and good visibility.
Have a range of distress flares in a sealed pack that can be quickly transferred into the life raft or a set permanently installed in the life raft.
Fire at sea is particularly dangerous because of the fuel and cooking gas storage on board and a risk of crew being trapped below. With the risk of fumes below deck, use only water or a dry powder extinguisher in the cabin. BCF fire extinguishers are recommended only for automatic systems in an engine room. When a cooker flares up, a fire blanket is best solution, stowed near but not right next to the cooker.
Water is used for any fire involving wood or fabric, but never be used if fuel, oil or high-voltage electricity is involved. Engine fires almost invariably involve leaking fuel or oil, so stop the engine and cut the fuel off at the tank, keep the engine covers on to restrict the air supply and apply the fire extinguisher in through a vent.
Have a well-stocked first-aid kit on board in case of injury. Most injuries are relatively minor but the possibility of a broken limb, severe impact injury, or burns on yachts is always there. The first-aid kit should reflect what is required to deal with injuries over the time it takes until professional medical assistance can rendered.