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Old 19-05-2012, 21:52   #1
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Can you Buy Safety

Last week Larry and I decided to post a short chapter from one of our books as a cruising tip on our website. That post got a lot of comments (most of them sent directly to us by emails). One of these writers suggested it might be interesting to add it here to see how folks react. It's a bit long, but we think it's quite important since it might help folks who are outfitting a boat save some money. if you want to look at some of the comments on our website, you can click on the banner at the bottom of this post.

You Can’t Buy Safety

This chapter, from our book the Capable Cruiser, 3rd edition was originally written in response to a magazine editorial. It was printed in Latitudes and Attitudes several years ago but nothing has changed as far as the heavy marketing of so called Safety equipment. So Larry and I think it is worth sharing it with folks who getting ready to set off cruising.

The list of safety gear you “should” buy is endless; the potential to sink your cruising budget by buying it is definitely real. Some safety gear is essential, some is useful, most of it will never get used so where do you draw the line? It’s a hard call even for experienced sailors. The only way to make wise choices is by getting out sailing and racking up lots of sea time in lots of different weather situations so you can truly evaluate what equipment you need. In the rush to ready your boat and shore life so you can get out cruising, it is hard to gain this experience/sea time.
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when you consider safety gear:
The first and most important piece of safety gear you have on board is a partner who has the knowledge and skills to handle the boat. There is not one piece of man-overboard gear that is going to help if the person left on the boat does not know how to get the boat back to you.
Your boat is your life raft. That rubber thing in a valise or canister is an abandon-ship raft, a flimsy replacement for the strong boat you are thinking of leaving and only a hopeful last chance. The vast majority of boats abandoned by their owners are later found drifting crew-less and afloat.
The harness you may or may not use on deck is just that, a harness to back up your hands. It does not insure safety, nor is it a substitute for learning to move around on deck using the old fashioned sounding seaman’s adage; one hand for you, one hand for the ship.
The only sure way of avoiding collisions at sea is by having someone stand watch in the cockpit. A watch keeper on deck will be able to spot that violent squall approaching in time to drop sail before it hits. Because he/she will have lots of time to look around the boat the watch keeper might notice a potential gear failure before it causes a serious problem. The more reasons (or excuses) you have for staying below deck, the less safe you become.
Gear that is used only in emergencies may not function properly if you and the crew have not practiced using it. Inflatable items like liferafts may also fail to inflate/deploy/work due to ingress of salt water, exposure to sun and heat or human error when it was originally packed or repacked.
Think prevention instead of cure. I.e. improving the non-skid on your deck and cabin-top could prevent crew from skidding overboard. Improving your boomvang/preventer-tackle-system could prevent an injury-causing accidental gybe.
Over the past few months we have had the pleasure of rendezvous with some highly experienced cruising sailors, folks who have each circumnavigated twice and sailed far beyond the normal routes including Noel and Litara Barrett winners of the Blue Water Medal, Alvah and Diana Simons, Beth Leonard and Evans Starzinger. Interestingly the topic of safety brought the same reactions from each of these master sailors, “it’s far safer at sea than on the freeways. Car’s whizzing past you at 60 miles an hour, only three or four feet to spare. Out at sea you are rarely moving more than 6 or 8 knots.” But we all agreed; with experience comes confidence, with confidence comes the ability to access safety or accept risks. Almost everyone who sets off cruising has far more experience on freeways than at sea. If you had a look at the boats each of these remarkable people sail you’d be surprised at how Spartan their “safety gear” list appears. Each of their boats is highly geared towards efficient sailing, each has very clear deck areas and an extensive system of handholds throughout the cabin, in the cockpit and on deck, and each has all essential systems independent of electricity. Each carries a plethora of back up rigging and sail repair equipment. Each has an abundance of anchors, anchor-rodes and a powerful windlass.
If you are outfitting for your first foray offshore, consider spending some of the funds you put aside for safety equipment on a learn- to- cruise charter. Invite that salty old guy who sailed around the world ten years back to go out sailing with you for a weekend and assess your gear, or lack of it, through his eyes. Hire a professional delivery skipper to join you for a day or two of sea-trails before you invest in any more “safety” gear. You will be buying something far more dependable than a piece of gear that might theoretically save your life in a theoretical situation; you’ll be buying first-hand experience that could prevent that theoretical catastrophe from happening in the first place.
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Old 19-05-2012, 22:39   #2
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

Thank you --- advice from two of the best and most experienced sailors (and best writers)
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Old 20-05-2012, 02:10   #3
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

Personally I don't see any of that as being contentious - but have been around long enough to know that others may see it differently .

To use the phrase I coined recently on CF, "The best bit of safety equipment onboard is the Skipper's Noodle" - and IMO that certainly extends to any partner onboard, indeed I would say that there is no reason (apart from simple laziness ) why any permanent crew (Husband / Wife and Children, of pretty much whatever ages) should not become competent enough Skippers to get a boat to a port safely if the usual Skipper is incapacitated. or goes Glug . Indeed I would say that any Skipper who does not have his permanent crew up to that level (even if not initially) is an idiot . .....or is insecure.

I recall recently that someone posted on CF that his "Safety" advice to the wife (in the event of him going overboard and being lost) was to press the big red button and someone would come to help .....whilst of course true (well, likely true - albeit depending where in the world) for me that attitude kinda misses something out about the boat thing .

On the tether thing, I am in two minds - for sure I agree with the maxim "one hand for the boat" and that the best way to avoid drowning is not to fall overboard , but IMO a plan B on that is no bad thing. Albeit for me the three biggest "safety" items on the not falling overboard thing are decent handholds (size and spacing), decent bulwarks (if yer foot don't slip over, yer body less likely to follow ) and stainless steel (top) lifelines instead of wire (both as handholds and to steady self - especially if balance compromised really don't want that extra inch or two of give). Not everyone will agree - but I don't care .

Nonetheless I do have sympathy for those whose exposure to all things boat comes later in life and (especially in modern times) means that likely comes wrapped around all things "safety" - when trying to do the right thing for both self and especially family it is hard to go against 30 years of "advice", even when you know that much of it is marketing led.....at least until building up own first hand experiance and knowledge.
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Old 20-05-2012, 03:03   #4
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

Great advice. To the subject of the post, I think you can "buy" safety, but the currency is generally your time. Taking the time to learn weather, navigation, your boats systems, first aid, etc are all cheap. Taking care of your maintenance items and inspecting rig and sails also.
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Old 20-05-2012, 05:06   #5
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

I wonder what in the article is contentious? It seems like common sense to me.

I will say that for us (in the process of outfitting) having young kids aboard does change things a bit. If it were just us, we'd probably skip the life raft. Its not just us, so life raft it is. There are a lot of other bits of purchased safety equipment going on the boat that wouldn't if we didn't have kids- netting, harness attachments through out the cockpit, etc. However, nothing compensates for common sense and a healthy respect for the awesome power of wind and water.
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Old 20-05-2012, 17:03   #6
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

G'Day Lin,

I don't always agree with your ideas, but in this case I certainly do. The obsession with safety "stuff" seems driven by marketing and associated magazine pontification, not by the realities of seagoing.

Thanks for braving the slings and arrows of outraged advertisers and know-it-alls!

Cheers,

Jim
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Old 20-05-2012, 17:15   #7
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

Priceless, well done..
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Old 20-05-2012, 17:33   #8
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

Off topic, but I have I blame Lin and Larry Pardey for my being broke and obsessed with crossing oceans. I just happened upon your story while surfing the web, bought a couple of your books and CDs and it's been all uphill ever since.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I like my life again.

Eric
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Old 21-05-2012, 05:32   #9
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

Well, we recently had the thread from the woman who wondered if a chartplotter could "make her safer." An awful lot of people were arguing in essence that, yes, it could. So that would appear to be a case of trying to buy safety.

Of course, the truth is that there isn't any object or device that you can buy that will make you safer. You can only use things (mostly knowledge and experience, but also some devices) to make YOURSELF safer.

Big difference, that a lot of people don't quite seem to "get."
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Old 21-05-2012, 05:47   #10
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

Well I agree you can't buy safety but sure as hell, there is a lot of people selling it!
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Old 21-05-2012, 09:52   #11
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wotname View Post
Well I agree you can't buy safety but sure as hell, there is a lot of people selling it!
Lol
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Old 21-05-2012, 09:59   #12
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

true--is not equipment that saves ye--is the smarts in the loose nut owning the boat.
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Old 21-05-2012, 10:22   #13
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

Quote:
Originally Posted by denverd0n View Post
Well, we recently had the thread from the woman who wondered if a chartplotter could "make her safer." An awful lot of people were arguing in essence that, yes, it could. So that would appear to be a case of trying to buy safety.

Of course, the truth is that there isn't any object or device that you can buy that will make you safer. You can only use things (mostly knowledge and experience, but also some devices) to make YOURSELF safer.

Big difference, that a lot of people don't quite seem to "get."

that's not buying safety. That's buying a chart plotter and thinking about how to use it for a variety of things. No one buys it just "for safety."

But even if it's stopped working, IF you were being smart and keeping a log that includes lat and long from the chart plotter, dead it's still been a lot of help because you can much more precisely where you estimate you are now, and go from there.

It's right in front of you all the time, so you don't have to remember about that submerged piling or sand bar. I'm sailing into new waters this weekend and wouldn't do it without a second person skilled at reading charts, but for sure we'll have the chart plotter on as well, and I will feel safer for it. But I didn't buy it for "safety." That's just one of many things it adds to.

If buying a chart plotter means she's buying safety, then she "bought safety" when she bought an anchor, and her backup anchor, and her life vests, and her dinghy, and ... you name it. Keeping her rigging in good shape was buying safety.

Certainly towing insurance is buying safety. I had to use it twice when the situation was or was potentially dangerous.
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Old 21-05-2012, 10:23   #14
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wotname View Post
Well I agree you can't buy safety but sure as hell, there is a lot of people selling it!

If you buy a drogue are you buying safety? How about the storm sail I'm going to get? Am I "buying safety," or am I just using ordinary prudence which happens to involve an expenditure? I would say the second.
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Old 21-05-2012, 10:24   #15
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Re: Can you Buy Safety

Quote:
Originally Posted by zeehag View Post
true--is not equipment that saves ye--is the smarts in the loose nut owning the boat.

It's both. You have to have a decently equipped boat AND you have to know how to use it.
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