There have already been a few non-facetious replies, but I'll weigh in with mine, which are similar. After coastal and ocean cruising for a some years, I know a few boats that have been lost
or suffered some sort of reasonably serious calamity, but I haven't studied the statistics, so can only give anecdotal advice.
I'll not include the obvious, like falling overboard or boom strikes. It does happen, but most people are pretty safe when it comes to direct life-challenges. Also, a couple of boats should have had a defibrillator aboard (1 life lost), but knew they were a risk; in the past it was a serious cost concern, but not so much now. Here's my list of factors:
1) Poor boat safety
- you don't want the boat to sink in rough weather
2) Bad scheduling or being in a rush - strict adherence to weather windows will save you a lot of grief.
3) Not being methodical or slightly pedantic - "accidents" are usually a combination of events
that did not appear to be adding up catastrophically.
4) Careless navigating. GPS
makes it too easy & complacency sets in. A dolphin saved me from running into the rocks one night when I was too tired to be making nav decisions (I could have been one of the anecdotes below!).
A few boats that sank, or almost did, were cutting corners in safety
or preparedness. One did so "literally". We were near the lead of an overnight "convoy" between island groups in Tonga
, bashing west into the wind
to get around a reef extension, when one friend, several boats (and a few miles) back radioed that they thought it would be safe to turn south. We knew the charts
weren't 100% accurate, and though they might be right we decided to sail on a bit longer, until we knew we were safe. We told them we wouldn't turn yet; they turned about 10 minutes later, but too early (about 30 feet as it turned out!) and ran into the reef. They pushed hard with the engine
, went over the reef, holed the boat in the process and sank in ~40 feet of water. No lives lost
In other situations, boats were just not prepared. Like the steering
chain coming off a gear
before hitting the stop (1 life lost). Another had a hull
extension fiber-glassed off the transom to stow the dinghy
: just power the dinghy up onto it, out of the water. Great idea, until BIG waves crash down on that surface and open up the hull
(no lives lost).
It's sometimes difficult to know what factors will combine to create an on-board crisis, which is why I mention #3 above. If an engine
belt breaks or alternator
dies, fix it! You might not know when you'll need the engine urgently. Hatches should be completely open or completely closed (especially underway) -- it's too easy to appear secure. That kind of stuff.
About the anchor discussion: A big anchor has always been a curiosity for me. I almost exclusively use a 44 lb Bruce on my 65 foot, 20 ton boat, but I have 300 feet of 3/8" high-test chain attached to it. I had 300 feet of 5/16" hi-test, but sold it after a few uses when I realized that I needed the weight to form a deeper catenary (to help keep the anchor buried). After going back to 3/8", I never had to worry. A sister ship would drag regularly with a 110 lb Bruce and 5/16" chain, but wouldn't consider carrying heavier chain when I suggested it. Some boats have a separate weight they slide down their rode
A few cautions:
* If you wait to go cruising until your boat is "ready", you'll never leave! It's a work in progress; but try to understand the various risks of incomplete projects.
* Don't fall overboard when in the open ocean. Never! A solo sailor friend survived that (twice!), but it's highly unlikely.
* Read about weather and weather forecasting.
* Understand your boat's behavior as the weather gets worse, but more importantly, understand the weather and forecasts enough, and you might just be able to avoid the worst.
* Don't overload your boat! It will change the performance for the worse.
* Pay attention to forecasts (yours and others)! See #2 in the previous list.
Cruising is a great way to live, and relatively very safe. I think the difference is that cruisers are regularly exposed to new risks (like a coconut falling soundlessly 50 feet, then landing with a thud right beside you!), so it seems like a dangerous activity. The "known" risks of urban life are significant and if the statistics say cruising is safer, then maybe the downside of urban risks aren't always so catastrophic, since advanced medical
care is usually minutes away, instead of days.
But most people also feel more alive than ever while cruising! So if you're inclined to go, then go and have fun!