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Staying safe when preparing to sail

July 05, 2023

One of this year’s Maritime Safety Week themes was sharing knowledge, experience and best practice. So, we spoke to some experienced boat owners on our team, Liz, George and Hannah who shared their approaches and tips for all things safety-related when preparing for a trip.*

What’s your pre-departure checklist?

Checks – Carry out a thorough review of all equipment and systems: fuel, batteries, electrics and electronics—including the radio. When it comes to sails, ropes and rigging, ensure there are no unwanted knots, all sheets are rigged correctly, the sail is all the way to the top of the mast, and the main halliard is firmly in the cleat. Ensure bungs and inspection hatches are firmly closed to prevent water from filling the inside of the hull. Pay attention to the weather forecast and tides.

Pre-season—If your boat is taken ashore in the winter months, use this time to have it professionally serviced by a boat engineer. This gives peace of mind knowing that the engine has been checked over and works well.

If you tow your boat, thoroughly inspect the trailer, check the tyres and always carry a spare.

Tip: Depending on the size of your vessel, make sure you have a berth booked before you depart, particularly in the peak summer season. This will prevent you from having to anchor without creature comforts such as showers and a restaurant.

What safety equipment would you never set sail without?

As well as adequate life jackets for all crew, think about taking a:

  • Flare and paddle—in case of engine failure
  • Safety knife—to cut free any ropes that get caught
  • Watch—to keep an eye on the tide times to identify the most efficient routes. 

When thinking about a trip somewhere new, what steps do you take to understand potential risks?

Discuss with sailing friends who may have visited the area and review your charts. Spend some time reading Reeds Nautical Almanac. Described as ‘the yachtsman's bible’, it is indispensable for navigating the UK coast.

Speak to local sailors who will know the area well, pick up pointers for best navigating the area and common mistakes people make, such as shallow spots and areas of strong current potential hazards to look out for.

Don’t forget to check the weather apps.

How do you keep your skills up to date and stay informed of changes in boating rules and regulations?

Being a member of the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is advisable for receiving regular updates.  Try to undertake regular practice of areas to be improved.

Do you share tips and experiences with fellow boat owners?

It’s good to chat with other boat owners on the water as they will have a great view of your sail shape, the way your boat is balanced and how to improve boat speed.

Taking part in social events and even group sailing trips provide opportunities to share best practices, experiences, and tips.

How do you ensure the safety of fellow inexperienced passengers?

It goes without saying that lifejackets are essential on your boat. Take time to ensure people understand the potential dangers when travelling with you and what to do if a dangerous situation arises.

When taking out someone new to sailing or new to that type of vessel, it’s best to talk through what you’re doing a why you’re doing it before. For example, before a tack, discuss where to sit, when to move across the boat, watch out for the boom and then what ropes to release and which to pull in. Explaining this before and setting out a plan will help to ease the anxiety, and then this can be practised until it becomes second nature.

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*Please note this article is the opinion of our BSM sailors. You can find full safety guidance on the RYA website.



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