Is Sailing Considered Safe?
Is the boat safe?
Stand back on the dock and look at it. One tell-tale sign that a sailboat is ship-shape is that the lines (ropes) are clean and not frayed. The fiberglass doesn’t have to gleam, but it should be intact without gouges, cuts or holes. (A few spider cracks are to be expected.) The sails should look white and crisp, even as they’re folded or furled. If they look dingy and show threads flying, beware. Go below and see the salon to make sure it’s neat and tidy. The head (bathroom) should look good and not smell.
Is the skipper okay?
Foremost, he or she should be certified by the US Coast Guard with the appropriate license, usually 50- or 100-ton. Ask to see the license if you’re unsure. Does he give a good orientation that includes safety drills and man-overboard drill? Does he look the part? Is he friendly, encouraging, curious—and sober? If yes, then question is answered whether sailing is considered safe.
How’s the weather?
It doesn’t have to be sunny and warm to go sailing, but it helps. Cloudy and breezy are fine if you’re dressed for it. Consider if the forecast shows any storms on the horizon. Check the weather app on your phone to see the forecast for the next day or the next few hours. Ask the skipper about his radar. Can he read the clouds for rain? Will he “reef” the sails at the dock in case of high winds? Once under way, within ten minutes at sea you’ll get used to brisk winds and welcome the bracing effect. Keep your eye on the captain to observe his ability.
How’s the water?
The odds of falling overboard are remote. While the boat will “heel” to one side and the other, it should not tilt more than 15-20 degrees. You’ll wear USCG approved Class I life jackets if the seas are rough or the water is cold (March, April, November). You’re safest in the cockpit, but you can proceed up to the bow if you go on the high side while heeling. No one has come close to falling off a Let’s Go Sail cruise, although 10-year-old boys have tested that record. Be careful boarding at the dock because that’s when most accidents occur. It’s considered a bad omen if someone falls off the boat at the dock. Is sailing considered safe then? Hardly.
Will I get seasick?
Not likely, because you won’t be exposed to any “pitch and yaw” of the boat bobbing up and down like a cork. The boat should sail straight through the waves. You’ll also be on an inland river in waves of 1-2 feet, not out on the Chesapeake Bay with waves up to 7 feet. Unless you’re on heavy medications or hung over, you’ll be fine. If in doubt, take Dramamine the night before and ask the skipper for seasick wristbands. We have 100% success with the bands, which makes sailing all the more safe.
Paul and Pauline LaRoche of Mays Landing NJ enjoyed a brisk afternoon sailing the York River off the USCG Training Center Yorktown. Marine safety was the topic of the day. Her grandfather ran pilot ships on the Great Lakes and is still active in retirement at age 94. Paul flew helicopters for the Army, including mine-sweeping in Operation Desert Storm. Later he flew rescue helicopters for the Coast Guard on the West Coast.
He explained that rescuers can’t very well rapel down to a sailboat in a storm because the bobbing mast acts as a metronome that can knock the helicopter out. “That’s why you have to jump in the water for us to pick you up.” We got to talking about movies, and Paul liked “All Is Lost,” starring Robert Redford. “He’s such a good actor, and it showed the difficulty of trying to save the stranded boat.” Pauline preferred “Wind,” the classic sailing movie that depicts the competition of the America’s Cup. The scenes were from the actual race — when it was a classical race. “I can’t believe they’re now putting airfoils on conventional boats to replicated the new America’s Cup,” Paul added.
A comprehensive “Safety at Sea” seminar runs every year in February at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News. It was designed for those challenging the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Is sailing considered safe here? Yes, indoors.
Professional sailors and other experts show novices and experienced mariners how to handle heavy weather and its consequences. Mariners’ Museum and Landfall Navigation bill the program as the most-comprehensive of its type in Hampton Roads. Registrants earn a “Near-Coastal Safety at Sea” certification from U.S. Sailing.
Cruising and racing skippers should attend, along with their crews. Recreational boaters, commercial mariners and curious family members or landlubbers will benefit as well. Topics include emergency communications, damage control and man-overboard rescue. Other topics cover medical care and prevention, the AIS System and Chesapeake Bay weather. Finally, albeit ominously: liferaft inflation and abandon-ship procedures.
The Bay offers unique challenges in rough weather. The waves do not rise to 50 or 70 feet as they can in the Atlantic Ocean (think “Perfect Storm”). But the vicious chop can be difficult to contend with.
Capt. Henry Marx, owner and president of Landfall Navigation, is the moderator. He has more than 40 years of sailing experience on two coasts of the United States, the North Sea, and the Caribbean. Joining him will be a panel of experts: Capt. Mark Bologna, Capt. Eric Knott, Will Keene, retired Capt. Pete Seidler and Jeff Orrock.
The registration fee is $115, with $15 off for Mariners’ Museum members. The fee covers course materials and a boxed lunch. To register, visit www.MarinersMuseum.org/Safety-At-Sea. For more details, contact Mark Arduini at (757) 591-7749 or marduini@MarinersMuseum.org.
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Is Sailing Considered Safe?
Is Sailing Considered Safe focuses on five factors to consider before leaving the dock.
Capt Bill ODonovan
Williamsburg Charter Sails, Let's Go Sail