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offshore safety - page 4

4.4 Safety briefing

Topics covered in a safety briefing depend on the boat and the intended passage. Too often very experienced crew fail to conduct a safety brief because of their perceived knowledge and experience. Consequently, some never know where anything is or how it operates. 

The skipper should make himslef aware of any medical conditions that may become an issue during the voyage, where a crew's medication is kept and how it should be administered. Enquire if people are comfortable in the water or if they are non-swimmers. 

The yacht should have at least one other person who knows the boat, fully understands its operation and procedures, and can help in the event of an emergency. 

The level of safety brief given to people day sailing will differ from one for sailing offshore for a day, week or month.

For week sailing, highlight personal safety:

  • Where gear is stowed.

  • Lifejacket fitting and use.

  • Man-overboard routines.

  • How to use winches and halyards.

  • On-deck safety.

Safetry Briefing Checklist

Deck safety

The details given in a deck briefing and on-going awareness education, depend on the experience within the crew. Brief experienced sailors, new to the boat, on its idiosyncrasies. Rope clutches should be labelled. Areas to cover: safe use of winches, clutches, harness clipping points, anchor and poles. 

  • Main and genoa sheet danger area.The boom has obvious dangers but the mainsheet and genoa sheet can also catch an unwary crew by trapping them to the side of the cockpit, causing chest and head injuries. This area is called the "danger area" and is shown below with a red color. ​

mainsheet and genoa sheet danger.png
  • Man-overboard equipment. Brief on the deployment of life rings, lights and assciated equipment, and how to deploy quickly. In the event of a man-overboard, ensure that everyone knows their roles and who is charge. ​

  • Emergency procedures. What should the crew do in an emergency? Follow skipper's instructions which may include:

- Alert all onboard.​

- Wear lifejackets.

- Get on deck.

- Conduct a head-count.

Dinghy Safety

Safe Dinghy Operations are poorly overlooked yet this is when you are in the most danger. Here are some issues to think about. Mostly the issues come from thinking that the trip is short and safety concerns can be partially relaxed.

  • Difficult to see:
    In a dinghy you are low to the water and it is difficult to observe you. Often you've left the boat during daylight hours and returning at night. You forgot to prepare by taking a flashlight onboard and so you are running dark.

  • Close to water:
    There are no life lines. The error margin for gaining your own balance is low.

  • In experienced operators:
    Everyone is keen to drive the dinghy.  What if someone fell out and the operator turned the engine the wrong way. Within less than 1 second, the prop would cause severe lacerations with possible death. Balancing speed with total load and balanced load and with conditions requires experience. 

  • Operating close to breakers and shallows:
    Waves near the shore are a sure danger for capsize. And especially if the bottom is reef or coral cuts are going to occur. Never go side on to a wave. Whilst boarding at the beach, do not hold the dinghy side on to the waves. You can not hold a dinghy against the force of even a small wave

  • Tide and Weather:
    An incoming tide will sweep away your dinghy left on the beach. If you're ashore for longer periods of time, ensure the weather will be conducive for your return.

  • Often overloaded:
    Heading ashore often seems like a hassle to run more than one trip for the crew. Thus the dinghy tends to get overloaded with gear and crew. Wrong balance or an inopportune wave can cause disaster. Water rushing in over the front due to forward overload can also create havoc.

  • Engine reliability:
    The outboards suffer from many issues. An engine failure at the wrong time can be dangerous. Ensure you have oars on board and plenty of fuel.

  • Kill Cord:
    This is a lanyard attached to the engine cut off switch and the driver when ever the engine is running. If the driver is thrown overboard the engine will automatically cut off enabling the driver to swim back to the dinghy AND preventing the propeller from chomping body parts.

  • Life Jackets and Pump:
    Often, the crew tend to negate the need for life jackets due to a short trip or just not thinking this has obvious potential consequences. A deflating dinghy is not a fun feeling whilst in operation. Carry the pump.

  • Boarding and getting out:
    Our rule for these operations is always have three points touching something at any one time. i.e. 2 feet and one hand or two hands and one foot. An entry and exit like this tends not to look so graceful but is much more graceful than wet clothes, saltwater in your drink and a bonk on the head.

  • No communications:
    Often the dinghy crew will neglect to carry on board any form of communication to rescue. A dinghy with a failed engine caught in a rip current is a disaster. Consider taking a VHF and perhaps flares.

  • Returning from the bar:
    Drink driving laws are often overlooked when operating a dinghy and besides the chances of being caught are minimal right? Yet the law is there for safety not to randomly write tickets. Operating a dinghy drunk whilst initially funny, the consequences are serious around water at night.

  • Secure the Dinghy:
    "Excuse me - is this your dinghy?" This was the question we heard once from a fellow boater towing our dinghy. It's pretty embarrassing! Don't rely on inexperienced crew to tie a proper knot.


In general - you've been applying good seamanship to your entire cruise. Don't slacken your guard around the dinghy.

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