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Old 25-05-2010, 08:03   #1
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Safety System

I have a 36' sailboat which I sail between Catalina Island and San Pedro at least once a month with my family/friends on board. I have the basic safety amenities available including basic life jackets which I don't wear(you know, the big orange uncomfortable ones), a life raft, an air horn/whistle, life sling, and a handheld VHF. After reading too many stories and coming to terms with my own judgement I realize I need a safety upgrade.

I usually don't wear a life jacket when I'm out and about (including during my nighttime sails, and I realize that if I fell overboard at nighttime I'd need to tread water for quite sometime until the crew on board would be able to pick me up). That is if they were able to keep there eyes on me... The water isn't very cold here, but I know that it's not safe and I want to change that before the next time I go out.

I want to ask a few more experienced sailors what safety systems they have in place, including what life vests they recommend, what harnesses they wear, and any other safety equipment they think I and my crew should have on them/available in case of a man overboard situation.

Thank you,

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Old 25-05-2010, 09:24   #2
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Off the top of my head - get a personal flotation device (PFD) that you are comfortable wearing. The ones you have that you never wear are just wasting space on your boat.

At the very least, get and use harnesses for heavy weather and night sailing. Think about where you will fasten the line from your harness and add extra points if needed. Rig jacklines before foul weather hits.

People DO go over the side. It CAN happen to you and your crew,


The message is the journey, we are sure the answer lies in the destination. But in reality, there is no station, no place to arrive at once and for all. The joy of life is the trip, and the station is a dream that constantly out distances us”. Robert Hastings, The Station
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Old 25-05-2010, 10:02   #3
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I've got an inflatable PFD with a built in harness. I try and hook onto the jack lines everytime I'm on deck. It's really easy to go overboard on a boat and about the only way to guarantee that you'll be found is to be attached to the boat. I try and always hook onto the leeside so it would be easier to climb back on board. Doubt if I'd be be able to climb the high side.

Just bought a personal Epirb. I single hand and falling overboard with the self steering set could leave me trolling bait. Feel I need to have some way to alert the powers that be that I'm in distress to give me some hope of rescue. Fortunately, the cost of the personal epirbs has come way down in the past few months with additional features. Still haven't solved the problem of where to attach it. The clip isn't all that secure so keeps falling off my PFD. It's attached by a lanyard but falling onto the deck can't be good for it's longevity. Have stuck it in the cargo pocket of my shorts which works but it tends to get hung up on lifelines, shrouds, etc. A nuisance more than a problem. Think I may have a pouch sewn up that I can permanently attach to my PFD.

If you don't think falling overboard is a constant possiblity, read this from yesterdays Electronic Latitude 38 Latitude 38 - 'Lectronic Latitude. The couple were in SF Bay where it is possible to swim ashore from anywhere. It highlights the difficulty of saving yourself in cold water.
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Old 25-05-2010, 10:31   #4
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As said above, get a PFD that is comfortable/stylish to wear even if it is a lower class then recommended. For inland waters I use a waterski vest and attached is a whistle and at night I add on a strobe light. I am a swimmer/diver, and the boat can be boarded w/o a ladder. The wife wears an inflatable with a harness, she feels comfortable and secure with that one.

BTW, there are MOB sensors that will set off an alarm if that person has one on them. Just Goggle 'MOB Alarm'

MOB Alarm | Mobilarm - Man overboard safety systems
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Old 25-05-2010, 14:10   #5
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I have "150-Newton" inflatable PFD with integral harness and crotch strap. They are so easy to wear that one crew member disembarked with one on her back and it took her a few kilometers on foot to realise .

I also have webbing jacklines, that I store belowdecks when I'm not onboard, for UV protection. I rig them each time I sail.

Regarding Crew OverBoard, I am convinced that "layered defence" is necessary. For this reason, I have an IOR-type danbuoy (with light) attached by 50 meters of floating line to the horseshoe buoy, a stern ladder, a "Life Sling", a mobile tackle to lift the casualty out of the water...

A new liferaft, compliant with ISO 9650-1 (offshore) is presently on order.

At least each time I take a new crewmember, I do a "safety tour": how do the heads work, where are the flares, where is the liferaft, how to put a PFD on, how to use the VHF, how to start and stop the engine... I should also do a MOB recovery exercise but it takes so long to do and weekends are so short.

I have everybody onboard wear a PFD:
- when in the dinghy,
- at night,
- when sailing the spinnaker,
- when sailing under reduced canvas,
- when seasick
- when the deck is slippery with snow or frost
- ...

Anyway, I have seen only 3 people fall overboard and each time, a full standard recovery manoeuvre wasn't relevant: the first MOB was drunk (not my boat) and fell between the moored boat and the pontoon; the second one tried to keep the boat alongside another one and realised too late that she wasn't strong enough; the third was showering in the transom steps, slipped, fell in the water but kept hold of the shower hose, which didn't break

More generally, I have tried to build a list of identified risks (fire, flooding, grounding, wounded crewmember...) and have countermeasures for each one (extinguishers, pumps, towing hawser, wound dressings...). Of course, a competent crew is necessary to operate the countermeasures

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Old 20-08-2010, 02:36   #6
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It seems the mindset has to be that the odds are bad if you fall overboard, so
(1) The biggest emphasis has to be on staying on board (harness with strap and short/long tethers, jacklines, nonskid, strongpoints, watchkeepers who are alone topsides not allowed beyond cockpit esp. at night).
(2) Next is having a life vest and other gear (whistle, strobe light, "float coat", horseshoe buoy/MOB pole, etc.), which buys a huge amount of time for people to try to find you -- even SoCal water is plenty cold enough that you'd likely lose the ability to swim fairly quickly and would be a goner without flotation.
(3) Next is having competent crew on board who would be able to do a rapid recovery (LifeSling, lifting apparatus, boarding ladder, emergency blankets),
(4) Then, if your own crew can't help you, they need to be able to call for help (ability to use radio, give GPS coordinates) and you want to have the personal locator beacon (and warmth-retaining clothing plus flotation) to supplement the other gear to give others a chance to find you.
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Old 20-08-2010, 03:02   #7
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I tread some of the same water as you bud. I'd recommend some stuff like this. Basically you need to keep you on the deck (harness, jack lines), get someone else back on the boat (life sling), and let people find you really get messed up (epirb / lights, etc). The life jacket I can swear by. My wife's opened up when needed once, and they're quite comfortable to wear.

WEST MARINE Offshore Manual & Automatic Inflatable Life Vests at West Marine

I don't know what you have ready in case you start having real problems, but we have a small locker dedicated to damage control. It has various items such as a small wrecking bar, mallet, small hack saw, bung plugs, zip ties, two part underwater putty, and the collision mat.

Thru-hull Teakwood Plug

The other thing I'd throw out there (and this is pricey) is a big daddy manual bilge pump. I've got an Edson. The thing is so powerful a 100 year old lady could pump the ocean dry while sipping tea. Edson 30 GPM Portable Pump Kit EDS-165AL-30-200 2"…
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Old 20-08-2010, 13:25   #8
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Blue Pelican in Alameda (510 769-4858 had an Edson Pump kit for sale for something like $400 just before I left SF last month. It came in a largish bag and looked to be complete. They had the commercial Bronze version with no hoses or handle that I bought for $200 which was a real steal. Thought I was going to have to break it out as the rudder packing gland started leaking copiously about 1/2 way to Hilo. Fortunately it got no worse and the electric bilge pump stayed ahead of it cycling about every 15 minutes.

I bought the Spinlock Vest/Harness. It's a bit pricey but worth it. Wore it 24/7 for 15 days and it was comfortable, almost like it wasn't there. The few times I took it off, felt unnatural. It comes with leg straps which I thought were a hassle at first cause I didn't hook them up. Finally started hooking them up, just two push clips, and they weren't a problem anymore. The two hook tether was extra but well worth it for safety. With two hooks you can clip on with one while moving the other so you are never unhooked. Spinlock Deckware - Deckvest Harness/Lifejacket (Automatic): Mauri Pro Sailing

Since i single hand a lot, staying attached to the boat has it's issues. If I go overboard with the self-steering bent on getting to paradise at 6 knots, there is no way I'm going to be able to get back on board if I'm being dragged past the transom. I bought a personal Epirb that I keep in any convenient pocket I have. Hopefully, if I do end as trolling bait, I can summon help to get me back on board before a Great White makes me dinner. So people can see me when they come looking, I carry a firefly strobe light, a whistle and a dye pack. Haven't found a convenient place to carry these other than a pocket which is a bit of a problem in my paradise outfit of swimming suit or other suit. Think I may have a canvas shop make up pouches that I can attach to my vest so they are always close at hand with lanyards attached.

I ran nylon straps down either side from the mid bow to the stern as Jack Lines and another 6' line to a padeye in the middle of the cockpit sole. I'd hook up to the 6' line while still below and could move around the cockpit with that. When I wanted to go forward, switched to the long Jack Lines. If I didn't have so much stuff on deck, would think about running the Jack Line on the cabin top. Might keep me from going overboard.

Another reason for a tiller which I don't have, yet. Run a line from the tiller to the side of the boat and around something solid like a lifeline stanchion and let it stream 50' or more aft. That way, if you go overboard, you can hopefully grab the line and force the boat to round up even with an A/P or Self-Steering Vane. Without that, you are just going to be trolling bait if you go overboard.

I bought a new boom with internal reefing and ran all the main control lines aft. I use double line reefing with the tack lines and halyard to port and the clew lines and outhaul to starboard. I never had to leave the cockpit to mess with the main in the 2011 mile run to Hilo from SF. Can reef in about a minute from the comfort and safety of the cockpit under the shelter of the dodger. Before, I always used to wait too long to reef, now I tie in a reef as soon as the boat needs it and shake it out as soon as it doesn't. A lot more pleasant and faster sailing.

The 130% jib is on roller furling so, for the most part, is also handled from the cockpit. Found the roller furling to be invaluable. Ran wing and wing for 12 days with one jibe. The collapsible reaching pole pretzeled the third day at 0400 on a moonless overcast night with winds in the 20+ range. The sail was flapping violently and the pole dragging in the water threatening to break the forward lower shroud. I couldn't see squat and the sheets beat the heck out of me when I went forward. Then it suddenly hit me, furl the sail. Went back to the cockpit and furled the sail and all the drama was over. Hauled in the pole foreguy, which is led to the cockpit side, and it was out of the water and almost on deck. Went forward in peace and comfort and detached the pole from the sheet. Went back to the cockpit and set the vane to head up a bit and hauled the Genoa out on the opposite tack and was off again at 6+ knots though a bit east of the Rhumbline. Went forward and secured the bent pole on deck, and set the spinnaker pole without having to fight a flogging sail. Went back to the cockpit, rolled up the Genoa again and then unfurled it on the opposite tack attached to the spinnaker pole. We, the boat and i, were off and running, literally, again on the Rhumbline to Hilo. Minimum fuss and drama on a windy, dark night.

You need a way to get back on the boat. A ladder that's stowed below or out of reach does you no good. Fortunately, my WindPilot Pacific Plus Self Steering doubles as a built in ladder. If you don't have something like a self steering vane hanging off the stern, you are going to need something that you can deploy from the water. LifeSlings are wonderful but you still have to a strong crew on board to get hauled back aboard.

Hypothermia is nasty stuff. In the prevailing water temps off much of the West Coast, you'll have about 15-20 minutes of useful self help time. The water is so cold that your hands will go numb in short order. Even though they'll still work, they won't give you any feedback. That makes it really difficult to do anything the least bit intricate in getting back aboard. In an hour or less, you are going to be on the verge of unconsciousness. Getting help quickly is very very important.
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Old 20-08-2010, 14:10   #9
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Good comment! Some additional thoughts:

Lifeslings: I had (and will have again) a spare halyard that was long enough that it could be rigged to the lifesling and hoisted from the cockpit, just in case. We didn't want to have to try and rig the sling in an emergency. Leading to a self-tailing winch anyone on board could hoist anyone from the water.

Strobes: The current IOR suggestion is to not use strobes...they don't provide depth perception for the crew coming to get you (aircraft or boat). I think I'll still keep mine but also have a water activated light, and a small waterproof flashlight. I can turn it off if indicated.

If I put batteries in a safety device, they're lithium because they last longer, don't discharge as much in storage, and work well in cold weather.

Vests: Leg straps are important, to keep from having the vest yanked over your head. I have a small pouch attached to mine (not sure where I got it from, other than it was designed for backpackers) to keep the extra stuff on. Since I wear my vest all the time outside of my bunk, it holds my knife, the MS-2000 strobe, the PLB, a day/night flare, rescue streamer, whistle and mirror. All dummy-corded to keep from dropping them, and I wind the dummy cord up around everything before it goes in the pouch. I use 3/32 nylon cord (half the size of parachute cord), and run it through loops I had sewn in the inside bottom of the pouch. I also had a small square of reflective material (reflexlite) sewn on the outside of the pouch..

Ladder: A roll-up, or folded ladder over the stern, with a toggle to deploy it that you can reach from the water is good. A ladder in a locker won't help. Even with lots of people onboard, getting a casualty from the water to the deck can result in lots of injuries, if the casualty can do it on his own it's usually safer.

Visual attractant (dye pack)...I've flown a lot of SAR hours and dye packs don't work well at all in any kind of sea other than glassy swell...after you've been found. I don't really believe that they're that effective at keeping sharks away, either, although the mil-spec packs are supposed to be repellent, too.

I have Rescue streamers that work better in testing, the military uses them also. RescueStreamer® - Emergency Distress Signaling Device They are much more visible from the air than dye packs or vests are and work in breaking seas.

And once someone has been in the water (especially if they've been dragged at all) they need to be monitored to see if they have any respiratory injuries (from the fall, or water inhalation). Modern vests should have face spray shields to help keep water out. Don't bundle the person below and have them take a nap, someone has to watch them. If there are only two of you, then they don't get to rest...

Healer52 / Lisa, Rick and Angel the Salty Dog
Currently on the hard, looking for a boat
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