What do you need to do to be safe at sea? It’s advisable that all vessel operators implement a safety management system (SMS). It does not matter if you are commercial operator or just use your vessel recreationally, we all want to come home safely.
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Check the weather!
Have a system in place to monitor the weather. While it is certainly possible that you may never be in need of Safety Equipment, you will be thankful that you do in an emergency situation. Life jackets should not be considered an optional extra in any situation. However, you should ensure that it is of the correct size for your body weight, fitted properly and securely (preferably with a crotch strap or harness to prevent it riding over your head), and that it is regularly serviced in accordance with the manufactures recommendation to ensure it performs as expected. Complete a safety brief with all on board prior to departure and if you are going alone ensure that you let someone know where you are going and what time you are expected to return.
It is also advised to have a throwable flotation device, possibly attached to a long length of rope. This will greatly assist anyone who has fallen overboard. All passengers and crew should be aware of where the life jackets are and how to operate them in the event they do not automatically inflate.
While a mobile phone can be used to contact emergency services, a VHF radio is a far better device to ensure prompt assistance. A VHF radio is not as dependent on additional masts and antennas, and has a much greater range. It is also much easier to pinpoint the source, meaning the emergency services will know exactly where you are. The added benefit is that any calls made on Channel 16 can also be responded to by nearby boats that will quite likely be able to assist before the lifeboat arrives. A torch along with spare batteries and a fire extinguisher suitable for your type of boat should also be considered essential safety items. You should carry a detailed chart for the areas you are travelling in. Even if you do not understand everything on the chart, being able to work out your position and surrounding dangers is important.
Always do your due diligence and prepare a passage plan prior to the voyage. Spare rope is something that can be useful in any situation. A couple of decent lengths can act as anything from additional mooring lines, a tow line, a throwable line to a man-over-board or repairs to damage. It is also advisable to have the following safety equipment stored on board. They will almost certainly be useful in aiding a quick and safe resolution to any dangerous situations. GPS – this provides a backup for navigation. Be aware though that it should not replace your charts, but act as an additional confirmation of your location. Having A.I.S is a real option that you should consider. Read more about that here.
Flares – nothing will attract help faster and clearer than a flare. Depending on the how far you intend to travel from land it is advisable to at least carry hand-held flares and also parachute flares. They should be stored in a watertight container and regularly checked that they are not out of date. Any out of date flares can be disposed of by handing them over to the police.
Life Raft – In the event of an onboard fire or if taking on water, you have the assurance that you and your crew will be safe until assistance arrives. Grab Bag – It should be your last resort to abandon ship, but if needs be, don't forget to take your grab bag, full of essentials to see you out until assistance arrives.
What’s in your grab bag? SART – Search and Rescue Transponders are used to locate a survival craft or distressed vessel by creating a series of dots on a rescuing ship's radar display. EPIRB – Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons when manually activated, or automatically activated upon immersion, send out a distress signal. The 406 MHz beacon which transmits a digital signal, can be uniquely identified (via GEOSAR) which provides instantaneous identification of the registered user and its location. Ensure that you EPIRB is registered. Batteries – this applies to both handheld devices such as radios and torches; but also to larger items such as your bilge pump.
A bilge pump is no use without any power, so consider a dual charging system to provide a backup, preferably with the batteries in two different locations on the boat. Mobile phone – these are very useful regardless of situation, but as with the GPS, it should not replace your VHF radio.
Tools – basic tools to allow simple repairs to an engine. Spare parts such as fuel filters, hosing and hull-bungs can prove invaluable. Boat maintenance A thorough maintenance routine can prevent many rescue situations by ensuring that your boat and its equipment can perform to the best of their ability. The two most important items that can go wrong on a boat are the engine and the bilge pump. Both quite likely rely on the electrical system, which as a result of salt and damp is very susceptible to corrosion. This makes the electrical system a priority of boat maintenance. All electrical lines and fixings should be installed with the aim of keeping them as dry as possible. Any connections should be kept clean and protected with water-repellent, non-conductive grease or a corrosion inhibitor.
After the electrical system, the engine is the most important as for many boats it’s the only means of power. You don’t have to be a mechanic to ensure reliable operation. Regularly check the condition of hoses for both fuel and cooling systems as they are particularly vulnerable to extreme temperature changes throughout the year and can degrade and crack. A quick visual check of all the hoses can ensure that they haven’t begun to leak, or are likely to in the future. As long as an engine has a consistent supply of air, fuel through its hoses, a strong electrical supply and suitable cooling it will continue to run.
Fuel and Oil Ensure oil levels are correct will keep the engine working well. Topping off your fuel tanks before leaving is best, however if you can’t do that, ensure you have enough fuel for the distance you intend to cover with enough extra to allow for any changes.
VHF Radios – These are the channels that are constantly monitored by Guernsey Coastguard. Channel 12: This is used for commercial movements within the harbour and should be monitored when entering and exiting the harbour. Channel 16: This channel should be used for emergency purposes only. Using this channel allows emergency services to pinpoint your location by communicating with other radio stations.
Be safe at sea.
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View the latest UK MAIB report here