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pre departure checklist
water sense
playing safe on water
avoiding tugs & barges
fog at sea
distress signals at sea
sitting out a hurricane
holing up for a hurricane
heavy weather sailing
fire on board
towing and salvage
US salvage contract


playing it safe

John de Frayssinet (Yachting Life Editor)


the schooner Lelantina is nearly lost at Cannes breakwater
when under the ownership of Prince Bira

Points on power

If you own a powerboat, the two greatest risks are breaking down at sea, and setting alight to yourself. Ideally, boats cruising offshore should be fitted with twin engine installations. However, this does not absolutely guarantee reliability. Many installations are fed by a common fuel system, and water or dirt in the tank could promptly bring both engines to a stop.

In some cases a common electrical system could have the same effect. To ensure genuine twin engine reliability it is essential that each engine is fed by an independent fuel system and tank. Wiring should also be totally independent, running from separate batteries. These are important points when choosing a boat.

If your boat does not have twin engines, then you must be extremely careful before putting out to sea. If at all possible try to cruise in company. You should always carry an emergency radio. Some owners are able to attach an outboard bracket to their boats, and carry an standby outboard, that will get them home if trouble occurs.

No powerboat man should ever put to sea unless he is absolutely sure that his engines are in perfect working order. Never skimp routine maintenance, and have your engines checked by an expert at regular intervals. It is also necessary for the owner to have a very thorough knowledge of mechanics, so that if trouble occurs he can put matters right on-the-spot. It is important that a comprehensive tool kit, and engine manual, along with a selection of spares recommended by the manufacturer are carried on board.

If you are one of those people who will never master the complications of the internal combustion engine, make sure that you own a twin engined boat!

The prospect of a fire on board is extremely frightening. While the hull is designed to prevent water getting in, it also prevents explosive fumes getting Out. These fumes are heavier than air, and will lurk for a very long time in the bilge. Obviously the greatest danger lies with gasoline engines.

Bilge ventilation is, therefore a must. Several good extraction systems are on the market, and these should be connected to effective deck vents. When first coming aboard, always run the extraction system for a few minutes, before switching on the ignition. It is a very good idea to interlock your ignition switch to the bilge fan. This will prevent the ignition being switched on until the bilge is really clear. Some warning devices are on the market, that are designed to detect gas in the bilges. These are worthwhile investments.

Another critical time is when he boat is being fuelled up. I am often appalled at the off-hand manner with which this is done. Always close all hatches before the operation starts, do not smoke, and be extremely careful to prevent fuel splashing about. Here good tank venting is important to prevent blowback up the pipe

Sail in safety

Sailing boats are, as a general rule, less likely to break than powerboats. If the yacht also has an engine, then you have two sources of power to get you home. However, sailing types are usually much less careful about engine maintenance, reluctantly co­habiting with that oily smelly thing lurking out of sight in the bilges.

Spars and rigging must be thoroughly checked at regular intervals. Examine the mast and spars for any sign of corrosion and pitting. Danger points are attachments for halyard winches and points of exit for internal halyards. Here different metals are in close contact, and this is likely to cause electrolysis. If your mast, is stepped on the keel, check the gaiter sealing the gap between the mast and coachroof. Here water can be held for long periods of time, eventually eating through the mast.


always check for mast corrosion

Most mast failures are due to broken standing rigging. Check all attachment points on the mast and hull, for signs of corrosion or fracture. If your rigging is galvanized ensure that no rusting has taken place. Look carefully for broken strands or kinking, that may not

have been noticed when stepping the mast at the beginning of the season. Swage terminals can be a source of trouble, and these should all be examined. Finally. ensure that all chain-plates are firmly attached, and that no corrosion has weakened the bolts.

Bottle-screws can be a source of failure. Apart from breaking, they can have the habit of undoing themselves without being noticed. letting go of a cap shroud or stay at a critical moment. It is always my practice to wire these up with split pins.

Often, sails can be torn by catching on sharp deck fittings. Always tape up split pins, and other sharp or catching fittings. Likewise, it is advisable to protect the headsail from the spreaders by taping or fitting rubber caps.

If you have external halyards and are worried about windage. rig it with whipping cord that can easily pull up a spare if necessary.

Always make sure that you include some spare cordage to make up a new sheet should one break, and carry spare blocks and - shackles. Many accidents are caused by yachtsmen who still insist on attaching their sheets by large shackles. When these start to flail around, Sooner or later. someone will get clouted.

Examine all running rigging at regular intervals. The most embarrassing breakages are usually halyards. A trip up the mast to check that their blocks are running freely is really worth it. Carefully check there are no signs of corrosion and strand breakage (in the case of metal) or fraying and weakening. It is much easier to replace halyards before they break.

Examine your sails for signs of wear and check that they are not coming unstitched. Many yachts carry storm jibs. but often they are not taken out of their bags from one year to the next. When you find that you really need it, you will probably find it rotted through or the hanks corroded solid. Quite often, they have never been tried, and in a howling gale you might find yourself trying to figure out how all the wire strops fit, if they fit at all. Put up your storm jib some time when the weather does not call for it.

One ‘classic’ I must mention, is to carry a spare reefing handle.

Deck fittings are another point of weakness. Ensure that fastenings are not corroded, cleats are well fixed, and that winches are in good working order.

All boats that put out to sea, must be sound in all respects. Leaks generally become torrents when the going becomes heavy, so fix them when they are leaks. Carefully examine keel, propeller and rudder fixings for signs of corrosion. If possible carry an emergency steering arrangement, and if a sailboat, a spare tiller.

If your boat is well provided with strong grab handles, it is much less likely that you will need to test the lifelines. If lifelines are used ‘in anger' it means that your seamanship has failed in some respect, either through careless ness while on deck, or through having an unsound boat. It is quite obvious that plenty of non-slip surfaces are absolutely necessary but still most boats I see are totally inadequate in this respect. It is so easy to paint the stuff on. International make the best non-slip paint I have encountered so far. It carries the unlikely name of Deck Suede. This does not contain sand and looks most attractive when applied.

All boats should carry a comprehensive tool kit to deal with any foreseeable problem. ‘It is quite useless having tools, if when you need them, they are found to be all rusted up. Make sure that they are kept well oiled and dry.

Finally, if you cook with gas on board, make sure that the equipment is properly installed and always make sure it is turned off at the bottle as soon as you have finished with it.

Many ‘safety’ items are sold on the market, such as distress flares liferafts and so on. Such equipment is vital on board but real safety comes from the proper understanding of your boat, and the knowledge that it will not let you down.


Do’s and don’ts

DO carry a toolkit sufficient for most basic repair and maintenance jobs.

DO check spars and rigging at frequent intervals.

DO make sure you know how to get your storm-jib up quickly.

DO make sure you have essential safety items - flares - buoyancy aids etc - on board at all times

DO make sure that some form of emergency steering can be rigged.

DO NOT put to sea without a spare reefing handle.

DO NOT leave sharp objects capable of tearing or snagging sails unattended

DO NOT treat re-fuelling in an offhand manner. Take care at all times.

DO NOT leave gas installations switched on while under way.

DO NOT put to sea unless you are absolutely sure your engines are in good working order.