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
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
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
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
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.
make sure you know how to get your storm-jib up quickly.
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.
leave gas installations switched on while under
DO NOT put to sea unless you are absolutely sure your engines are in good