In Part I of our Safety Series, we discussed what happens if you go overboard. This month in Part II, we discuss briefing new crew on safety.
Standard practice with novice crew members and non-sailing guests is for the captain to give a safety briefing before leaving the dock. As well as a better informed crew about safety and what to do in an emergency, a good safety briefing will help ease the minds of the skipper, as well as the newbies or those unfamiliar with the boat.
Renee Mehl, who is the director of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Offshore Sail Training Program, a seasoned offshore racer, round-the-world racer, and cruiser helped us to compile a pre-departure safety briefing. Mehl says that a few items below may not be relevant, depending on the type of boat you have, but if you want your guests aboard to participate in the day’s activities, brief them and/or demonstrate the following:
- Explain how to safely get aboard. Pull the boat close to the dock with the bow line. Put one foot outside lifelines, and then step over with the other foot while holding onto handholds or the rail if possible. Have someone pull the boat over to the dock to disembark; use the same sequence: one foot over lifeline onto the rail, the other foot all the way to the stairs or dock.
- Pass over any heavy items before or after boarding.
- Tell your guests how to call for help on channel 16 with your VHF radio turned on. If you have a DSC-VHF radio, show them the red mayday button and explain how to activate it. If the boat has a GPS, briefly mention how to read the lat/long in case the guest has to make an emergency call on the VHF. Show your guests on a chart where you’re going and estimate when the group should be returning.
- Ask if there are any medical issues the skipper should be aware of, such as the need for an EpiPen or heart medications. Guests can talk to the skipper privately after the initial safety brief.
- Bring out the lifejackets, and encourage your new-to-boating guests to wear one. Explain how inflatable PFDs work. If they are not worn, ensure they are easy to get to. Point out the location of other important safety gear such as flares and fire extinguishers.
- Let your crew know what to do if someone falls overboard. Having a spotter is essential, as is keeping a throwable device, such as the lifering, self-inflating SOS Dan Buoy, or PFD, handy at all times.
- Explain to your guests where the best/safest places are to sit while boating, and if the boat is on the small side, show them how a passenger’s shifting weight can affect your boat’s stability or exposure to waves.
- Mention the parts and aspects of the boat that can hurt you: low companionway entrances, hardtop dodgers, or hatches where one could fall down. Explain known “danger zones” onboard, especially in wavy or stormy conditions and with heavy chop.
- Announce, loudly, when any hatches on deck are open, especially at night. The main companionway hatch should be closed whenever anyone is working on the cabintop, or if the ladder is removed to do engine checks.
- Encourage guests to help run the boat. Teach them how to help you with dock lines (or where to sit to be out of the way), where to stow fenders, when to be quiet or alert during difficult docking or close-quarters maneuvering situations. If it’s a calm day, why not let them steer the boat a little? More engaged crew members make for a better day for all onboard.
- Always handle the bitter end of a dock line onboard, especially when pulling in through a closed chock. Danger: if fingers are through a bight or loop of line coming through a closed chock, and the boat surges, fingers can get crushed.
A great way to wrap up a fun day on the water with your newly minted boaters is to have an informal debrief, and ask them what they learned. You might be on the way to developing experienced future crew, refine your own briefing items, and help grow their interest in boating!
By Carrie Gentile
To read Part I in our Safety Series, click to What if You Go Overboard?
To read Part III in our Safety Series, click to Your Onboard Medical Kit.