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offshore safety - page 8

4.8 Heavy weather sailing


If heavy weather is on its way, use the time before it arrives wisely. Heavy weather makes simple tasks difficult, and the unpredictably of the boat's motion will make every situation more hazardous. 

Establish the track that the weather system is taking, and work out a plan or shortest route through. A day's notice of heavy weather can be used to put the boat in a better location to deal with it. If it is safer at sea, stay there and look for more sea room. Alternatively, head for sheltered water. 

Brief the crew on expected conditions, possible duration and tactics. When the boat is down to storm sails or reefed sails, shorter watches with less crew may reduce crew vulnerability on deck. 

Crew routines 

To combat long periods of heavy weather, the crew need to stay warm, dry, well fed and rested. An effective watch routine and prior preparation of food, drink and the boat, helps. 

  • Consider having fewer crewmembers on deck so that more can shelter from the elements. This will make them more effective when they are required.

  • Ensure those on deck wear lifejackets, safety harnesses and appropriate tethers. 

  • Increase the frequency of boat checks: pumping the bildge, looiking at areas under strain such as chainplates and sheeting points.

  • Brief crew and talk through options and tactics before wind strenght increases. 

  • Drink plenty of water.

  • Take seasickness tablets.

  • Check and wear appropriate safety equipment.


On deck

  • Check the deck equipment and rigging for problems, including loose or missing pins and shackles.

  • Remove sails and large items from the deck.

  • Stow all gear securely.

  • Shut and secure lockers, hatches and portlights to prevent down-flooding.

  • Secure anchor locker and consider removing anchor if securing it is difficult.

  • Rig jackstays.

  • Close off deck ventilators. 

  • Check that cockpit drains are free-draining.

  • Prepare sail plan and talk through options.

  • Secure companionway washboards.

  • Check safety kit.  

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Sea anchors

Sea anchors are deployed from the bow to keep the yacht pointing into the waves. They are particularly useful on multihulls, reducing the change of capsize or pitch-poling. A sea anchor required for a 10m yacht would be about 4m in diameter and requires approximately 100m of nylon line is essential for retrieval. Sails and rigging paid out on the anchor cable have been used to similar effect. 

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