Every sailor with few nautical miles under his belt has an own set of rules he lives by whenever at sea. They are often pearls of wisdom derived from direct experience, mostly from mistakes never to be repeated again.
Here are our 3 Golden Rules of sailing.
Boats are built to float and they will do so as long as you keep the water out of them. With enough water inside the hull, even the safest boat in the world will eventually sink (Titanic anyone?) So if you want to keep your boat afloat, you have to keep the water out. This means:
- While at sea, make sure all your hatches and portlights are properly closed.
- Constantly check your thru-hulls, like sea-cocks and drains, but also depth sounder transducer and water speed sensor. Keep on-board a diagram of where your thru-hulls are and make sure you have plenty of wooden plugs and some Stay Afloat just in case.
- Check your bilge for water at regular intervals and make sure your bilge alarm and your bilge pumps (electric and manual) are working properly. Remember that water will collect in the lowest point first, so this is the place to check.
- Avoid to hit anything hard with your hull, especially rocks, coral bummies, icebergs or growlers, other boats, etc. Yes, there are also floating containers out there, but they represent a remote risk (unless you happen to be Robert Redford in All is lost, in which case stray containers will chase you).
Let’s be practical here. The best way to manage a Man Over Board (MOB) situation is not to let it happen in the first place. They keyword here is risk prevention. This means:
- With heavy sea and anyway at night, when you are on watch in the cockpit, wear a safety harness with a hook line. Attach yourself to a safe solid point of the boat and check that you are indeed properly secured.
- If you need to move on the deck, especially to the bow or to a higher point, always secure yourself first. Safety harnesses with two hook lines, one short and one long, are your best insurance because you can move while always being secured somewhere.
- NO peeing from the stern. There have been uncountable cases of sailors falling off the boat and disappearing forever just because of this simple stupid thing. Use the heads or a bucket if you have to. Do you think this is for men only? Not really. Read here.
To put it very simply, unless it has sunk (see Rule #1), a boat is a much safer place to be than a life raft. It is roomier, potentially drier and much more visible to rescuers than a tiny life raft.
There have been many cases of crews who have jumped on the life raft because their boat was in distress and were not found anymore while the boat, empty, was found days later still afloat. This proves that they would have had a much better odds to survive if they had stayed with the boat instead that abandoning it for the life raft. This means:
- The right and only time to get on your life raft is when the deck is totally below water
0. Be prepared
Wait, the title says 3 Golden Rules and here is a fourth one! True, but this is a über-rule, so it doesn’t count. 😉
I read an article time ago about car drivers who have had zero accidents during their entire driving life. Apparently their “secret” is that, while driving, they always think ahead of time. In their mind they constantly go like this: What happens if the car in from of me breaks suddenly? What happens if that truck turns left? What happens if the road suddenly gets slippery? and so on.
Thinking ahead of time or, in other words, being prepared seems to be the secret to managing problems before they even occur. This may be a good topic for a future post!
What are your Golden Rules of sailing? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
Marco and Desirée