Going Overboard Is Our Worst Nightmare
It happens, crew members do fall overboard, on a crewed boat there are others who can turn back and rescue them, on a single-handed sailboat it could be disastrous.
So how can boating folks reduce the risk without lessening the fun?
Be prepared, is a great motto and I borrow it for the purpose of making the point–apologies to the Scouting movement. Planning, preparation and practice are key here, plan for the worst but hope for the best.
All boaters but especially newcomers to boating should make it a priority to undertake a course of professional instruction run by a dedicated sail training organisation of which there are many in all parts of the boating world. Inexperienced boaters must learn the basics, including safety precautions before they get into a boat. Safety equipment including recommended clothing and life preservers are a must.
Do wear the life preserver vest, it will do you no good if it is stowed away when you need it!
Most boats have buoyancy aids built in, check they are in place and in good order. They may be hidden away in a water tight compartment or may be airbags under the deck or seats. Buoyancy aids will keep your boat afloat when capsized, use them to your advantage. Sail with other boats in sight, or in company, so that if you get into trouble help is at hand. Inexperienced sailors should not go sailing over the horizon on their lonesome, if you can’t be seen no-one can raise the alarm.
These recommendations apply to all waters inland and the open sea.
Capsizing is part of the sail training curriculum, so long as you know what you are doing and are wearing appropriate clothing it is part of the fun. Well supervised training courses will insist that you have the correct kit and that you know how to perform capsize drill, if you need confirmation watch the capsize drills on YouTube for graphic examples of what to do, then under the supervision of an expert practice them yourself.
- Stay with the boat, because of the buoyancy aids most boats will ride high in the water (making them easy to see) and the boat will help you stay afloat – important if you are getting tired.
Having the correct clothing will reduce the risk of suffering from hypothermia-wind chill and cold-water shock can kill.
- If you can, catch hold of a loose line with which to keep contact with the overturned boat if there is a risk it could drift away from you. You should be able to climb the capsized boat using the dagger board – center board or stabilizing fin. Standing on the dagger board use your body weight, while holding the dinghy side, thrust downwards to right the boat, as the boat settles upright climb on board and resume sailing.
- Should the overturned boats sail cover you try not to panic, take a deep breath and swim following the boats contours until you reach the dagger board which will be easier to get hold of.
- If you cannot right the boat stay with it until help arrives. Righting a capsized boat is hard work, and if it happens often you could start to become exhausted and progressively less able to cope. Learning the drill and using it as part of the fun is fine, but be aware of your own body, if it is telling you enough is enough head for home.
Always follow the safety rules and learn from the experts – they have seen and done it all before. Stay safe.