Frank's Corner: Chapter 4 - Boat Safety

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    With any sport there are precautions that need to be taken before enjoying it and sailing is no different. The price of carelessness in sailing is very high. Water has claimed many lives due to ignorance, lack of knowledge, foolishness and not using common sense.

    Sailing safety (boating safety) is important not only to boat owners but also all others sharing the sailing experience. This could include crew members, persons on other boats, etc. Safety starts on the dock before a person ever boards the boat. The captain/boat owner should go over their safety plan before going out and if crew/passengers are new to sailing they should be given a quick idea what will or may happen on a sailboat.

    Right-of-Way: Sailboats have the right-of-way when under sail. Under most conditions, should it be taken? I say give way, it is better to be safe than have a collision.

    Equipment: When on a boat make sure all equipment is in good useable shape. This would include: sheets, lines, deck, auxiliary, standing and running rigging, lights, anchor, tiller/wheel (rudder), swing keel, etc.

    Safety Equipment: - Life vests (PFD), horns, whistles, throwable devices, foul weather gear, etc. should be available for use as needed and not stored. I am a very good swimmer but if I am unconscious I can not swim very far so I wear a PFD when on a boat. Who can depend on another person to save them when the other person cannot save themself?

    Weather: Knowledge of weather conditions is important especially when the wind is what makes the boat go. The two worst weather conditions for a sailboat are no wind and too much wind.

    Capsizing: This can happen to any size sailboat but most often to the smaller boats (20 feet or less). This is not to say a bigger boat will not go down. As an example: A couple I know were sailing a Catalina 22 with a swing keel (the keel pin was not in place) in very gusty winds and they lost control of cleated sails (they had an uncontrolled jib) the boat was knocked down with the cabin entrance open. The 500# keel swung into the hull and the boat sank in 40 feet of water. Fortunately no one was hurt but a $6500 boat was totaled.

    Boom swing: Being hit during an uncontrolled jib can put someone in the water quicker than most anything on a sailboat. It can critically injure a crew member which may require immediate medical attention. This sounds bad and it is, but it can be easily remedy by being aware of the winds and responding to their change due to the boats location.

    Alcohol: 3 people aboard with too much to drink, boat capsized, and no pfds is a formula for three dead. Drinking and sailing is like drinking and driving. Save the drinks for the slip/dock. It sounds like I am preaching but have you ever seen a jet skier T-bone a sailboat and end up with a broken neck/DOA because of too much alcohol. It is not pretty.

    Which bring up another point: sailboats are slower that other boats, etc. on the water and they seem invisible, so a captain has to be prepared to take actions necessary to prevent accidents. There are a lot more things related to safety but this chapter is to get sailors thinking about making all aspects of sailing an enjoyable experience.

    Please let Frank know what you think about this new section of Sailing Texas. We need feed back!
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    If you would like to add your thoughts on this or on any sailing topics, please Email Alison at and I will post your sailing experiences on this website.

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