While we all enjoy being out in the open ocean or a large lake, whether it’s to initiate a few friends around our small yacht or to enjoy a day off sailing along the coast. While it is more than tempting to jump into a boat and sail away, the fact is that there are some rules we all need to abide by.
The protocol for safety on the water is specially crafted to keep us all out of the danger whether in the open sea or a freshwater lake, and while some tend to ignore rules, most sensible people will tell you that safety equipment is a must, no matter how experienced you are.
Most fully fledged sailors have experienced a grounding from a miscalculation or even worse, a sinking vessel. The last thing any sailor who sets off from land wants to think about is being stuck out at sea, not knowing how to deal with the situation.
That’s why following sensible guidelines is not just a precaution, but a literal rope you’ll cling to if anything happens. Yes, the sea is much safer than it once was, with advances in safety and navigation equipment, weather prediction and vessel design but that doesn’t mean you should take it lightly.
Throwing a party on a small yacht still carries an individual responsibility. Spending the weekend with your beloved on the open sea still gives a personal responsibility. This means you’re the one that’s accountable, as it’s your yacht, and your crew are expecting you to know the dangers and rules. The sea can be an unforgiving mistress and we must all leave the shoreline doing our best to make sure everyone gets back to dry land.
On the other hand, a possibility of an accident is not the only reason for you to stick to the guidelines. It’s also about the law enforcement presence. Paying additional fees, and being banned from sailing a yacht in your local jurisdiction is not something you want to have on your resume.
It may not look as necessary, but having everything that’s on the list will also save you the trouble of explaining yourself to the police, and that’s inevitable if they find you’re not respecting the regulations.
The fact is that the possibility of a vessel running into trouble is constant, no matter where you are and wearing a safety jacket is not something you should hide away from, as at the end of the day, what matters is enjoying the experience surrounded by the people you love.
Even if you’re on your own, the thought of having everything packed up in case something happens is not just comforting but also required by maritime law.
Here is the list of the equipment you should have present on your yacht before you sail anywhere, but especially if you are going out into the open ocean.
1. A functional fire extinguisher
Asking whether you have a fire extinguisher is the first thing a law enforcement officer will do, once they get close to the yacht. There’s probably a reason for that. When it comes to a fire extinguisher, checking an expiration date now and then is a good idea, given you never know what they might be interested in. In any case, if you’ve just bought the yacht, make sure you buy a new fire extinguisher or get the current one checked, as an extra safety measure.
2. Device for signalling / Being seen
When it comes to signalling, anything that can produce the sound will be welcome. Some kind of air horn, in perfectly working order should be enough. Double-check to make sure it is working before you set the sail for the horizon. If it’s an older horn, then also take time to clean it and pack appropriately. It’s better to know where you placed it than to ponder its location once the situation demands it to be used.
A flashlight, preferably seven of them. Light travels spectacularly well at night. Brief torches can be seen miles away. When the wind is picking up and sound is taken away on a gust, a small waterproof torch can be seen universally around the waves. They’re cheap, and frankly, within reason, the more the merrier of these.
When it comes to the number of the lifejackets you need to have, most people say that it depends on the number of people you’ve got hosted on the yacht. Personally I’d be happy with having more than you think you will need. Always have a few extra pieces in case that some of them are damaged or lost. Lifejackets serve such an obvious purpose that you’d think it wouldn’t need to be said. Don’t be fooled, eventually someone will eventually slip and fall into the water. There really are no excuses for ignoring this rule.
4. Radio Equipment
While most of your sailing can probably be done when you are within range of a cell tower, functioning radio equipment is still a necessity. It’s the world’s biggest call for help and a distressed yacht might not have your phone number. Remember, one day you could be that distressed yacht. Make sure your radio is sound, have handheld VHF radios on board and sail safe in the knowledge that you can contact some of the best rescue services available.
A registered boat is the only one that will get past the police or customs should it be necessary. Best not fool around with government or local rules as the powers that be tend to get agitated. Keep copies of your ships documentation in a waterproof folder. Put a USB stick with either scans or pictures of all essential registration and insurance docs in a waterproof protector and keep the items safe.
6. A card containing life-saving signals
Even though you probably know all of the semaphore messages by heart, the truth is that when the panic strikes, you won’t be as sure, and then again, if anything happens, it’s always good to have an illustrated manual within the arm’s reach. Also consider you might be incapacitated and someone not as familiar with as you with sailing communications might be doing the talking.
7. Additional lifesavers
Just in case this point wasn’t getting home, get extra lifesavers on board. There’s a reason they are called lifesavers.
8. First Aid Kit
An assessment needs to be made here about what type of sailing you should do. Prescription medications go in no matter what but the first aid kit for a lake will be different for an overseas passage. If your vessel is being used for a different purpose than normal, make sure the First Aid kit is adequately prepared. Common injuries from a moving boat are burns, bruises, crushes and cuts. Broken bones aren’t common but slings and other medical equipment would be a good idea.
You can roughly place the things to consider into 3 categories, equipment, medications and wounds.
For equipment consider gloves, triangular bandages, supporting (crepe) bandage, tough cut shears, tweezers, hot water bottle, splinting equipment, neck collar, needles and syringes, pocket mask for resuscitation, dental care kit, suture kit, scalpel, forceps, thermometer, scissors, instrument cleaning kit, safe disposal equipment and a hypothermic thermometer.
For medications consider sun cream, sea sickness tablets, paracetamol, ibuprofen, aspirin, antihistamine cream / tablets, indigestion tablets, Imodium, re-hydration salts, sterile eye wash, anaesthetic eye drops, antibiotics, antibiotic cream, very strong pain killers, local anaesthetic, laxatives, cream for skin infections, anti-anxiety medication, eye antibiotic cream, haemorrhoid cream, ear drops, and medication relative to the crew needs e.g. asthma treatment, the treatment for anaphylaxis
For wounds consider plasters, wound dressings, antiseptic wipes, cling film, eye dressing, wound closure strips, wound care kits, tubular gauze, paraffin gauze dressings, burn dressings, surgical tape, and sterile dressings.
An aide memoire (waterproof?) or a book on practical first aid at sea might be a good idea as well.
As well as some small ones for signalling a good maglite can act as a great source of light in foggy waters or illuminating the cabin when you need more than just a modicum of light. Every vessel ought to have a decent flashlight and several sets of batteries so light is not an issue when you need it.
10. Backup navigation lights
Again, power can go down at any time on a yacht. A backup set of lights so that other vessels can see what you are doing is imperative. Letting other vessels know your intentions can literally be the difference between life and death. Don’t take risks that can be solved with a backup set of lights.
While all the yachting magazines and boat sellers give you consistent messages of your yacht being parked off a small uninhabited Caribbean island the fact is that disaster can strike a mile off shore. While it’s great to have radio equipment which can have great ranges, the fact is a cellphone network can sometimes be picked up 10 – 15 miles offshore. You may be able to call for help with a smartphone. It’s a good idea to keep one on board and permanently topped up with power so you can take advantage of all that great coverage that the networks promise you. Check whether the SIM card is permanently active without usage by the provider. Obviously check this, but I think all networks are required to provide emergency service, depending upon your jurisdiction.
12. Throwable floatation
You should never need this because everyone should have a lifejacket (and be wearing it) but accidents do and will happen. The floatation device might be needed for an unknown person in the water and are an essential part of man overboard drills.
13. Tools and common repair
Plan for the worst and hope for the best is a good motto for a prospective yacht owner. There’s so many things that can require repair on a small yacht that it’s not funny a lot of the time. Have a good set of Chrome Vanadium tools.
Spare compasses and backup GPS systems. A set of fabloned emergency numbers and of common sailing areas. List of loval VHF rrequencies and local emergency channels.
While the idyllic image is of sun kissed beaches and lake shores, depending on where you live the weather can turn pretty quickly. A freak wave or shower of rain can make you wet and cold pretty quickly. Add a temperature drop and the idea of warm clothing that you know is warm and dry is a huge moral boost. Get a full set of some warm clothing, compress it and store it in a dry bag in a safe place inside the yacht.
This is an odd one considering you’re likely to be surrounded by it. For long passages, yes it’s good to have some kind of salt water converter so you can have regular drinking water. What I am more advocating here is fresh drinking water sachets with a long term lifespan. Keeping a few of these tucked away would be a good idea, after all, you really can’t survive without fresh water and it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security in everyday life that it’s plentiful and always available.
17. Sail repair kit
A good one. A spare sail is better, but you should always carry a good sail repair kit with needles capable of puncturing a thick sail cloth.
Shouldn’t really need saying this but it’s absolutely imperative you have a set of working flares within grasp in order to signal at night and to bring attention to yourself in case of an emergency. They have an expiry date so keep an eye on the fact that your might be out of date.
List of optional safety equipment
Dry bags – These are pretty c heap and keep things that you really don’t want to get wet from ever getting ruined by water. Yes, that expensive ipad is below deck and all the port holes are closed, but one day you are going to come below and a load of water is going to run off you and straight down that lovely new laptops keyboard. When not in use it’s quite a good idea to keep either expensive or valuable items inside a dry bag. It traps air so it will float as an added bonus.
A power bank – Anything that stores power can be considered a good thing. Phone power banks and the accompanying cable to keep battery life in your phone may one day safe your life.
Paracord – Basically very thin and strong rope. While it’d break pulling the Queen Elizabeth it is remarkably strong and has a multitude of uses. From keeping things lashed to the deck in an emergency to holding broken things together. Makes good sail thread in an emergency as well. It’s designed to be used outdoors so go for it.
Notice: While I do my best to provide accurate and helpful information on pontoon boating, you need to do your own research and find your boating laws to determine recommended and required equipment for your boat and boating location.