Boat safety mistakes – There is a huge amount to learn when becoming a new sailing cruiser. One area that needs specific attention, sooner rather than later, is avoiding boat safety mistakes. Below I’ve listed seven mistakes. How many did you know about?
7 Boat Safety Mistakes and How to Correct Them
1. Wearing rings
Time slowed down once I realized what had happened. I had a line tied to our aft cleat and I had thrown most of the line to a guy on the dock. As he started to pull the line in I realized that my ring (an anchor!) was attached to the outer threads of the line. It had literally anchored itself into the outside sheathing of the line. I couldn’t get my ring off. I knew that once the guy fastened the line and the boat pulled forward my finger was going to have to go with the line.
Sweat pooled on my brow as I pulled with all my might to get the ring off or break the strands that held my finger attached to the line. Just as the line started to pull my finger, I managed to rip the ring off severely bruising my finger.
Had I failed to do so, I’m afraid to think what might have happened instead.
On a boat, the best thing to do is leave your jewelry at home. Some sailors wanting to replace their wedding band use a rubber alternative. My husband and I don’t wear anything. In the policy section of our boat safety manual, we require all our guests to remove their rings when they’re sailing with us.
2. Thinking bare feet is a good idea
So many people dream of the day when they can take their socks and shoes off and leave them on the shore. Socks you can leave, for sure, but there is a need for shoes. On Britican, we have a shoe policy when leaving the cockpit. We require our guests to wear shoes when they use the anchor, pull up the mainsail, and do anything on the fore or aft deck. Why? It’s easy to stub, sprain, or break a toe. There are so many toe destroyers on a deck!
What we do is have specific shoes for the deck. I have some breathable sports shoes that I keep in the cockpit and only wear on the boat. They’re easy to get to, they never leave the boat, and they protect my toes. Wearing shoes on deck can negate a very common boat safety mistake quickly and easily.
Again, in the policy section of our boat safety manual, we list our shoe policy. We do this to avoid boat safety mistakes.
3. Leaving lines in the water
New and seasoned boaters make this mistake! While coming off a dock it’s possible that a line doesn’t get pulled all the way in. Or, perhaps a halyard falls off the mast, rolls off the deck, and into the sea. We’re known for having our dinghy painter (the rope that holds our dinghy to a dock or back of the boat) dragging in the water behind us rather than pulled up out of the water.
If you have a line in the water, it can get caught under the boat or in the propeller. A line can easily render a propeller useless meaning no propulsion. It also slows the boat down if it’s dragging in the water.
How can you prevent this boat safety mistake from happening or catch it early?
Add to your passage safety checks to check that all halyards, sheets, lines, and painters are secure onboard. We have over 35 things we check prior to leaving an anchorage or mooring. By completing routine checks every time you head out to sea you reduce the likelihood of accidents, failures, and disasters.
4. Getting hands/fingers caught in lines around the cleat
The main task where I find new boaters getting into trouble with line tension (and fingers!) is on mooring balls. When first learning there are quite a few steps, and you have to be quick. Boaters get caught out when they’re securing the line to the cleat and the boat pulls back from the ball and a huge amount of tension transfers to the cleat.
If the task is not done quick enough and fingers are in the way, it can be a disastrous boat safety mistake.
A solution is to first learn how to quickly secure a cleat so you’re not trying to figure it out under pressure. We use the OXO method. Watch this video to see a demonstration: How to Tie onto a Cleat
In addition to being able to handle the lines quickly, it’s important to know that if a line starts to pull out of your hand it’s best to immediately let go. There’s no way you’re going to be able to hold it. If you fail to drop the line, at worst you’ll get your hand/figures pulled into a tight space and at best you’ll get a rope burn. This is one of the most common boat safety mistakes.
5. Putting your limbs or body between your boat and another hard object to fend off
As a kid growing up on Lake Ontario and the St Lawrence River, we always had some kind of small boat. My parents beat it into me to never use my arms or legs to fend off our boat from something else. They would say, “Keep your limbs inside the boat. Your arms or legs will break before you stop us.”
It’s a natural reaction to put your arms/hand out when you come too close to another object like a dock or other boat but there is an alternative that is much safer.
Instead of trying to push the boat away from another hard object (dock, boat, etc.) always have a roaming fender on deck-ready to grab quickly. If a boat gets too close, you drop the fender between your boat and the other boat or dock. I can’t tell you how many times throughout the year I’ve had to do this.
From time-to-time boats drag off their anchor. If we can’t get out of the way in time, I just grab my fender, which is always sitting up on the deck, and place it between the area where the boats will touch. Every time it’s worked like a charm. Also, in the Caribbean, boat boys often approach the boat to sell t-shirts, banana bread, and trinkets. By having a fender or two on deck, I avoid a boat safety mistake by quickly dropping the fender over the side to prevent the boys from accidentally scratching the hull.
6. Failing to quickly diagnose dehydration
After three days of thinking I was dying, I went to a friend’s boat to say goodbye. I wasn’t feeling good, but I didn’t know when I’d see them again, so I made the effort to leave the boat. For three days I had a headache, diarrhea, and couldn’t stop drinking water and peeing.
Another friend came over to say goodbye too. He took one look at me and said, ‘Kim, you’re dehydrated.’ I replied explaining that it wasn’t possible for me to drink any more water. That’s when I learned that water doesn’t help with dehydration. Once you become dehydrated you need electrolytes to get your body back to normal. My friend grabbed a ‘rapid hydration powder,’ mixed it with water, and told me to drink it.
I kid you not, within 30 seconds I felt 100% fine.
For three days I suffered unnecessarily. Since then, I’ve always carried rapid hydration powder and drops. You can get them on Amazon or any pharmacy. In our boat safety manual, within our policy section, we require that all our guests get a full water bottle in the morning and drink throughout. We also define the warning signs of dehydration when we do our boat safety briefing to avoid boat safety mistakes.
7. Having lines on your body/around your feet
When I’m teaching people how to tack, jibe/gybe, drop the mainsail, or any task where lines are around and run, I look them in the eye, and say “don’t ever have lines on you or in a position where they can wrap around any part of your body.”
Time slowed down. I was racing in the Oyster Regatta. My position was starboard winch. Instead of putting the line in the break, I held it. The tactician would tell me when to let out the jib and when to pull in. Every few seconds I was either winding it in or letting it out. We were heeled way over, with no reef in the main, and too much wind. The pressure on the line was immense.
After hours of concentration, I somehow zoned out. I relaxed the pressure I kept on the line, and it suddenly started reeling out. The boat safety mistake a made was to have the line draped all over my body. I quickly kept trying to get the line off me before it fed out, but I felt as if I was fighting a losing battle. I became terrified that the line was going to eventually grab me and take me into the reeling winch.
Thankfully the tactician ran over, grabbed the line, wrapped it around the winch, and saved me. It took me a few years to overcome my fear of winches under pressure! Talk about boat safety mistakes.
As with most of my articles, I like to write about things you might not have heard about. Hopefully, you gained some helpful tips by reading this 😉
When it comes to avoiding boat safety mistakes the most important thing you can do is define what boat safety is, make sure you understand how all your equipment/safety systems work, and create a manual that enables you to store and disseminate all your boat safety instructions, procedures, policies, maps, and checklists.
To get started on determining how safe your boating environment is, make sure to grab a copy of my FREE Boat Safety Blueprint Video & Safety Audit.
This audit lists all the common boat safety equipment and enables you to check off what you have/don’t have. It also recommends servicing items that require maintenance in addition to listing potential procedures and policies that you might want to take on board your boat. Get the Boat Safety Audit here.
Other Boat Safety Mistakes Articles/Videos
- Sailing Basics – Avoiding Collisions
- The Importance of Using a Sailing Safety Tether
- The Best Life Jacket for Sailing Cruisers
- Seasickness Solution For Sailors
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