Below you will find the elements that make up the ultimate boat safety blueprint. The blueprint includes following the law and determining a system to know what safety equipment you have, where it’s located, and when it needs to be next serviced. Furthermore, it covers user instructions, policies and procedures, and of course a range of valuable safety checklists. Read below for a full outline of how you can create a safe boating environment.
Safety Rules and Regulations – the Law
It’s imperative to know what safety equipment, systems, and any licenses/safety certificates you need to be legally compliant. Different countries have different requirements. In the States, there are Federal and State laws. Start off with learning the requirements to own a boat in America and then narrow down to the State obligations.
For example, type into a search engine, ‘boating rules and regulations in America,’ and then check out, ‘boating rules and regulations in _______ (Florida, California, etc.).’
For areas outside the States, type in ‘boating rules and regulations in _______ (England, Mexico, etc.)’
Failure to be compliant can result in big fines and/or having the boat impounded. The Coast Guard, or equivalent, will periodically stop and board boats. Often, they request the boat owner demonstrates that the necessary safety equipment is available and serviced.
Most boaters are compliant. Unfortunately, however, they do the right things and tick all the boxes, yet that’s as far as they go. This is a big mistake and a massive risk. There is much more required within the boat safety blueprint I’m suggesting. Let me explain further-keep reading.
Legal Requirements Versus Reality
It’s worth considering worst-case scenarios and asking yourself, ‘will the safety equipment and systems I have onboard be enough?’
Let me back up a bit.
No one wants to think about a partner, or loved one, falling off the boat and floating away. Nor does anyone want to consider taking on water, the mast falling down, running aground, or a fire on board. When we think of living the boating life, we envision fresh sea air, beautiful blue waters, amazing sunsets, and a blissful life.
But accidents and safety issues happen. If you know what the potential issues are, you can make sure you have the right equipment. You can also create procedures and policies that can be easily disseminated to all passengers. More on that to come. Let’s first cover worst-case scenarios.
So – if your partner goes overboard and is knocked unconscious, do you have what it takes to get him or her back on the boat?
Do all your passengers know how to do a man overboard drill so if YOU fall off someone can get you? If a fire breaks out in your galley, are the fire extinguishers big enough to put it out? If a thru-hull fitting fails and you start taking on water, what do you have available to quickly stop the flow of incoming water?
Resist the temptation to put your head in the sand and think, ‘these things won’t happen to me.’
My aim is to help you realize that being legal is not necessarily safe. Ask yourself, how can I truly create a safe boating environment? How can I ensure that if something happens, we have the best chance of saving the boat or a life?
Carry on reading as I will provide you with the answers to these questions. I will tell you exactly how to create a truly safe boating environment with my ultimate boat safety blueprint.
Safety Equipment Inventory, Location, and Service Record
Complying with the law is NOT ENOUGH. Have I said that enough?
It makes you legal, but not necessarily safe. You can have the best safety kit in the world but if you, or your passengers, don’t know how to properly use it, where it’s located, or haven’t serviced it regularly, what’s the point?!
In addition to being legal, boat owners could also have an easily accessible list of all the safety equipment (ex. Life jackets, EPIRB, lifelines, safety knives, liferaft, etc.).
That list can outline where the equipment is stored so any passenger can survey it quickly and find what they need. For example, the location of all the fire extinguishers or where the safety throw rope is. Two of our three extinguishers are in closets so unless someone shows where they are it would take a passenger quite some time to find them. And our throw rope, to throw out to a man overboard casualty, is in our cockpit table.
It’s yet another item that is there to potentially help save a life yet if no one knows it’s there it’s useless.
In addition to cataloging the location of all the safety equipment, this list can also be used to record the servicing dates. Items like the fire extinguishers, and anything that self-inflates (life jackets, dan buoy, life raft), all need to be professionally serviced every year or couple of years to ensure they’re operating correctly.
Some items like emergency flashlights, the EPIRB (emergency satellite tracker), and fire alarms have batteries that need checking and changing routinely. There are also safety items that need to be replaced from time to time. For example, this year we replaced our horseshoe flotation devices because they were disintegrating after being in the sun for many years.
Having a one-to-two-page list outlining all your safety equipment, where it’s located, and when it was last serviced is a great start to creating a safe boating environment. It will help you to be organized. It will also help you easily disseminate the information to other passengers and know when items need to be serviced. But this is just the start of the boat safety blueprint.
Safety Equipment User Instructions
Many boaters do not know how to use all their safety kit properly. Heck, I see people wearing life jackets incorrectly all the time and you’d think that is a no-brainer.
When wearing a life jacket, if you fail to connect the crotch straps there is a possibility that if you are knocked unconscious and fall in the water the jacket will inflate and pop up over your head. You go floating (or sinking) in one direction and the jacket goes another.
The crotch straps prevent the life jacket from popping up. Many sailors don’t attach them or move them to the side because they can be uncomfortable.
Another thing that boaters fail to do is check the gas cartridge in their life jacket (self-inflating). We have a green light if the cartridge is good. It turns red if it’s not. Many boaters don’t even know that they can check the cartridge. (Note: not all life jackets have this feature).
As a boat owner, you’ll want to know every bit of safety equipment you have and how it works as a part of your boat safety blueprint.
And then have a way of teaching your passengers how it works. You can do a boat briefing for any new passenger where you explain the equipment and procedures, or you could have a boat safety manual that sits on your navigation station. We do both. We always do a safety briefing covering all 25 safety items that we have. Simon goes around the boat explaining each item.
Additionally, we have a boat safety manual listing the items, explaining what they are, where to find them, how they work, and any procedure that is associated with the safety equipment. For example, under our life raft section, we explain the type of life raft we have, where it’s located, how to deploy it and outline the step-by-step procedure for abandoning ship.
Being legal is the starting point. Asking yourself what’s needed to make a safe boating environment is next. Following on is knowing how to use your equipment. And then being able to effectively disseminate the information to all passengers. The next piece to the puzzle is creating procedures and policies that will help everyone know what to do when boat-specific safety issues arise.
Boat Safety Blueprint – Procedures and Policies for Boat Specific Safety Issues
There are a variety of issues that can happen when you’re boating. This is not to deter or scare you from the amazing lifestyle. Living and sailing our boat has been the most rewarding and fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. It becomes even more enjoyable when you know the risks and HOW to deal with them.
Some of the main boat-specific safety issues include:
- loss of engine,
- taking on water,
- can’t get the sails down/in,
- running aground,
- man overboard,
- abandoning ship,
- and fire.
There are set procedures you can create to deal with each of these issues. For man overboard, there is the figure-of-eight or heave-to procedure. For running aground, there are a handful of things you can do to get floating again. If there is a fire in the engine there is one procedure and another for the galley.
Having all your equipment listed and explained, in addition to how it works within a procedure, is a winning formula for dealing with boat safety issues.
Policies, on the other hand, are boat rules that you make up as you go along. You create them to reduce the likelihood of injury, illness, and accidents. Over the years I watched guests become easily dehydrated so I created a ‘Hydration Policy’. The policy requires all our guests to make sure they have a full bottle of water and drink it throughout the day. I also have them take hydration drops if they get a headache (the first sign of dehydration). We also have a shoes-on-deck policy and several others.
We keep our safety equipment location and servicing record, description of equipment, procedures, and policies all in one boat safety manual that sits on our navigation desk. When new guests arrive (which is every couple of weeks to join us on a Britican Experience) we do a safety briefing with our boat tour. We then show them the boat safety manual and urge them to give it a read.
What else is needed to create a safe boating enjoinment? You know it’s coming – don’t you?! I am the author of Checklists for Sailors so you gotta see this coming. The final piece of the boat safety blueprint is the almighty checklist!
Onboard Britican, we have a boat briefing and safety checklist for new guests. After going through the items on the checklist our guests will know about our 25 safety items, how they work, when to use them, and what procedures are associated with them.
Another checklist we use is a pre-passage safety check that prompts us to check our safety systems, rigging, engine, and so forth. It’s a ‘things to do,’ before we set sail list, and has helped us to spot potential issues before they become a disaster.
I also created a checklist for new boat owners. It’s all about creating a safe boating environment, rather than the less-than-adequate legal requirements. It lists most of the safety equipment that you want to consider having, in addition to vital checks, ensuring that the boat is SAFE for passages.
FREE Boat Safety Audit
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 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 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
Boat Safety Blueprint Questions/Comments?
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