Sailing is a fun and adventurous pastime, but it does come with its own particular hazards. However, with careful planning, preparation, common sense, boating knowledge, and appropriate sail and line handling, you can minimize the risks and maximize your enjoyment of your boating excursion.
Safety Tips for Sailing
One of the best aspects of the nature of sailing is its ability to be both exhilarating and relaxing. It is also a great way to experience nature and to see the world. However, sailing can be a hazardous pastime, and there are numerous ways that a sailing trip can turn sour if a boater is not properly prepared to handle an emergency. There are a number of steps that you can take before your trip to guard against disaster, as well as general rules of conduct that you and those aboard your vessel should observe during your time out on the water. By adhering to these guidelines, you should be able to minimize your chances of running into problems that could put a damper on your adventure as well as help ensure that your are as prepared as possible to deal with any unforeseen issues that may arise during your voyage.
Planning Ahead to Sail Safely
Whether you are a novice or experienced sailor, careful planning never goes amiss. Before heading to the water, be sure to:
- Obtain local charts of the area in which you will be boating. Study them, and plot your course ahead of time.
- Look up weather and condition forecasts. This will help you decide what days (and even what time of day) will be best for sailing, and will also inform you of what kind of attire and gear you will need to bring along.
- Brush up on the “rules of the road,” and familiarize yourself with local boating rules and zones.
- Create a float plan, which consists of names and contact information for all aboard, the trip itinerary, details about the boat (type, description, registration information), and types of signal and communication equipment onboard — including boat phone, radios, EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) and PLBs (Personal Locating Beacons). Leave this detailed information with someone on land.
- Take advantage of a free vessel safety check through the Coast Guard to put your mind at ease and help ensure safe passage for you and your passengers.
Come Prepared for Safe Sailing
Coming prepared with adequate knowledge of your craft and the area is just as important as coming with the right provisions and equipment. Before you leave shore, make certain that you:
- Arrive stocked with enough food and water for your journey, as well as emergency provisions.
- If any of your provisions or equipment have expiration dates, be sure that you have checked them (and replaced the items, if necessary), before your departure date.
- Be certain that you have enough PFDs (personal flotation devices) for everyone that will sailing with you, that everyone knows how to put one on, and that they all know where they can find one should the need arise.
- Make sure that your sailboat has all of its federally required safety equipment, and that it is all functional.
- Have ways to protect yourself and your passengers from the sun, including plenty of sunscreen and even a few extra hats.
- Go through a pre-departure checklist in detail. This should include extensive boat and gear checks.
Utilize Common Sense and Boating Know-How
Responsible sailing (and boating in general) has a lot to do with common sense. Taking the time before your voyage and during your trip to take a moment and think could save you and your passengers from irreparable harm or danger. While you are out sailing, remember to:
- Watch the weather and know the signs. If you see the sky darken unexpectedly or the wind pick up, play it safe and head back to land.
- Avoid crowded areas. This may prove difficult in more populous regions and during the popular tourist seasons, but fewer boats means fewer chances for collisions.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs while you are sailing. You have a responsibility to yourself and those around you to operate your sailboat while you are completely sober and cognizant. Be sure to get enough sleep before your journey so that you are fresh and alert during your sailing trip.
- Take care of your physical needs. Remember to keep hydrated and to get protection from the sun.
- If you are not proficient already, swimming classes will imbue you with important life skills that could greatly increase your chances of survival in the event of an emergency.
- Try not to sail alone. Not only does company often make the sail more enjoyable, it also ensures that you have at least one companion to help address any problems that may arise.
- Know how to handle your boat. Sailing classes are beneficial to new and seasoned sailors alike. There is always more to learn and improve upon.
Practice Proper Sail and Line Handling
One of the most unique and beautiful aspects of sailing is that you and the elements are working together to move you through the water. With the kinds of hands-on work that sailing requires, there come additional dangers. If you are new to sailing, it is important to foster respect for the power of your boat and the elements, and to learn the correct way to manipulate them. If you are a seasoned sailor, it is just as important not to become lackadaisical or to forget your hard-earned skills. While out sailing, it is crucial that you:
- Always be aware of the moving parts of your boat. This includes big things like spars and booms that may swing when you tack, as well as anything that is not tied or bolted down. A sailboat is a machine in a constant state of motion, and everything on it is (in some way) moving and shifting. Be watchful, and keep your wits about you.
- Clean up the deck whenever possible, and stow your sails quickly and safely. Sails that are luffing will affect your progress and your path through the water, so be sure to at least sea-stow them once they are doused. Coil and hang your lines properly to ensure that the line pays out without snags, knots, loops, etc. when you need it to, and to avoid tripping hazards.
- Always remember to practice correct line handling. If you have winches or other line-controlling equipment, make certain that they are functional and that you know how to use them. When you are working with lines yourself, always “palm” the line against its rail or the drum of a winch to hold tension when you are readying a line or making it fast. Never wrap the line around your hand or any other part of your body, and never step inside a coil of line or on it. The ropes themselves might not seem dangerous, but remember that they are attached to things that weigh perhaps hundreds or thousands of pounds.
- If you are on a boat that requires you to climb aloft at anytime, remember to always let someone on deck know when you are going up and when you are coming down. Wear a safety harness at all times, and clip in whenever possible.
Sailing is one of the best ways to enjoy nature, explore, and experience a fun challenge outdoors. Planning and preparation beforehand will help you to be a good skipper for yourself and your passengers, and accurate, relevant sailing knowledge, common sense, and correct sail and line handling will help ensure that your adventures are fun-filled and accident free. Enjoy your sailing expedition, but remember to do so in safety — for your sake and the sake of those around you.