October 30, 2011

Simple safety

IT CAN BE QUITE A SURPRISE to see how much safety gear there is aboard some sailboats, and how little aboard others. A lot of it has to do with the owner's philosophy.

During the 1950s, when men such as Marcel Bardiaux and Bernard Moitessier were sailing around the world singlehanded, they spurned even such elementary safety features as stanchions and lifelines.

"They give you a false sense of security," Moitessier once told me. "They catch you below the hip. They can catapult you overboard. Better to learn to cling like a monkey, like me."

Times have changed, of course. There's a lot more nagging now from the people who are trying to save you from yourself and your obviously suicidal ways. It's difficult now to find a boat that doesn't have lifelines.

But the old spirit hasn't entirely vanished. And some of the safest boats have the simplest equipment. It is, however, combined with a thorough knowledge of how to use it should the need arise. After all, it's pretty pointless to own thousands of dollars-worth of lifesaving gear if you and your crew haven't practiced using it.

You should be very cautious, though, when choosing safety equipment. Safety is an emotional subject and manufacturers trade on it. Promise yourself that you will not buy anything you couldn't handle in pitch darkness in a heaving sea on a stormy night.

So what do you really need? You'll have to choose for yourself, of course, since it depends on the boat, the crew, and where you intend to sail. But here are five areas you should consider when the subject comes up. Think hard about each of them and buy the simplest, sturdiest gear that fills the bill:

1. Equipment that will keep you on board.

2. Gear to save you if you fall overboard.

3. Equipment to keep the boat safe (including a reliable engine and sturdy anchor tackle).

4. Gear to attract help if you get into trouble, and

5. Equipment to save you if your boat sinks.

Today's Thought
Rashness brings success to few, misfortune to many.
— Phædrus, Fables.

“What happened to your leg?”
“Broke it jumping over the net.”
“But isn’t that what you’re supposed to do in tennis?”
“Apparently not if it’s table tennis.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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