Maritime Safety – Best Practices
In Malcome Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he discusses the fact that (on average) a plane crash required seven mistakes. Planes don’t typically crash due to some massive, single failure, but instead it is typically due to many small failures by the captains and crew. I suspect that boats are no different in this regard.
This weekend’s events inspired me to write down all the maritime safety steps I take when I’m out on the boat. Can you think of any? Have I left any off? I’d love it if you added your marine safety tips in the comments.
- Have paper printouts or books containing the following before you leave the dock:
- Weather forecast (hour-by-hour if you can)
- Tide levels: high and low
- Ocean currents: magnitudes and times
- It’s good safety boating practice to check the weather forecast every morning when you wake up and every evening before you go to bed. (This is what I failed to do this time around)
- Always be aware of the direction of the wind and how it will affect your anchorage. For instance, the dominant wind here in the San Juan Islands is from the southwest. Therefore, anchorages that open to the northeast are typically the calmest, most comfortable anchorages.
- Always pack a spare propane tank
- The Rock ‘N Row is dependent on propane for cooking and heat when on the hook. We have a wood stove that we make a lot of use of, but in high winds it doesn’t work very well. We also have electric heaters, but that only works if we are connected to shore power.
- Have lots of extra rope
- When the going gets tough, the tough get rope. You can solve a lot of problems on the water as long as you have enough rope. Any sailor worth his salt can attest to this fact. (Extra buckets often come in handy too)
- Before going to bed, make sure you do the following:
- Bring in all the fenders
- On my boat they end up hitting the side of the hull and making it hard to sleep.
- Batten down anything that might be susceptible to a gust of wind (furniture, buckets, etc).
- Turn on the anchor light
- Turn on the anchor alarm
- The Pro series of Maptech computer charts include an anchor alarm feature that will sound if you boat wanders too far from a set GPS coordinate.
- Turn on the depth alarm
- Even the least expensive depth finder (like the Hummingbird 160, which is what I have) includes a depth alarm.
- Bring in all the fenders
Even when I do all these things, I still have a hard time sleeping; especially on the first night out. A lot of that has to do with just getting use to the boat movement and sounds at night. I find that I mentally have to ‘give myself permission’ to relax enough to get anything resembling a sound sleep. This is much easier if I know that I’ve done everything I can to avoid a mid-night mishap. The recent edition of the electronics, capable of sounding alarms, has drastically improved my sleep too.