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Old 04-16-2007
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Safety Equipment for Offshore Sailing

Safety Equipment for Offshore Sailing

Personal Safety Equipment, Life Rafts, and Flares

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Personal Safety Equipment
To some extent, common sense will dictate the personal safety equipment to be carried. There should be a life jacket for each crew member. It should be a type I PFD, designed to keep the wearer face up even if he is unconscious, and providing enough buoyancy that swimming is not required to keep your head above water. As previously mentioned, the life jackets should have the boat's name on them. They should also be equipped with reflective tape on the shoulders of the jacket, and should have whistles attached to them. Get the type of whistles without the little balls in them, as they're easier to blow when full of water.

Each member of the crew should have a safety harness. There has been a great deal of discussion about the proper configuration of safety harnesses. The Special Regulations contain a five-page appendix detailing the required construction and hardware specifications for approved harnesses. Unfortunately, few safety harnesses that we are aware of have actually been tested for conformity to the ORC specifications.

A few highlights of the ORC specifications include the fact that the webbing and attachment hooksshould have a minimum breaking load of about 3,300 pounds, and the tether or safety line itself, whether of webbing or synthetic line, must withstand a load of over 4,500 pounds. Obviously, the strongest webbing and hardware in the world won't do any good if the stitching and splicing aren't done properly.

We feel strongly that the designers and manufacturers of safety harnesses should pay for the testing of their equipment by an independent testing agency such as the Underwriter's Laboratory. Harnesses meeting the test specifications could then carry a seal of approval. It simply isn't possible for the average person to look at a safety harness and say with confidencethat it is properly designed or manufactured. If they could talk, we suspect that some of the sailors who died in the 1979 Fastnet Race would have a lot to say about the design of safety harnesses.In the May, 1958 issue, we discussed the proper installation of man-overboard equipment such ashorseshoe rings, poles, and strobes. This equipment is the key to finding and saving a man lost overboard, and it is no place to cut corners. Every boat should have one horseshoe ring attached to a manoverboard pole. It should be equipped with a drogue to keep it from blowing away from the man in the water, and should have a whistle, strobe, and dye marker attached. The dye marker will be an aid in an air search or a daylight recovery, while the strobe pinpoints the gear and man in the water at night. The sound of a whistle carries much further than a man's voice, and can be blown even when the man overboard is weak from injury or illness. A second horseshoe ringequipped with at least a drogue and strobe light should also be carried. The best overboard equipment in the world won't do any good if it isn't easily deployed. Install it, then try it out. If you can't get the whole rig overboard in less than 30 seconds, your installation needs work.You should also keep a 50-foot heaving line in the cockpit, handy to the helmsman. Even if you can't maneuver the boat close to a man in the water, you may be able to toss a line to him.
Life Rafts
The life raft may be your last chance of survival if your boat sinks. ORC regs require that the raft have a canopy, and we go further to say that you shouldn't consider a raft that doesn't have a self-erecting canopy, with a support filled by the CO, bottle when the raft is inflated. In our opinion, canopies erected by holding them up with a paddle braced in the middle of the raft are ajoke, and have no place on the offshore sailboat. You should also have a bag of emergency rations and water put together and stored in close proximity to the companionway. This "ditch bag" is sacrosanct, and shouldn't be raided by a hungry crew for snacks. The life raft storage systemshould allow you to get the raft to the rail in 15 seconds. This means that it can't be buried in the bottom of a cockpit locker or under a pile of sails. Can you really get it to the rail that fast? Try it. Very heavy rafts should not be stowed below decks. If the raft weighs more than 90 pounds, it's too heavy to keep below. The best life raft in the world won't help you if its inspection isn'tup to date. This usually means a yearly unpacking, inflation, and checkout by a factory-authorizedinspection station. Expensive? You bet! But what's your life worth?

Flares
Federal law requires you to carry three hand-held red flares, or a suitable substitute. This is a pathetic selection of pyrotechnics for offshore sailing. The Special Regulations are more stringent.A boat sailing in offshore races must carry 12 red parachute flares, four white hand-held flares, and two orange smoke signals, as well as four red hand-held flares. If you add that up, it means you're going to spend almost $400 on flares. While the flares are legally only usable for three years from the date of manufacture, they will last much longer as long as they're kept dry. Store the flares in individual plastic baggies, and keep the whole lot in a waterproof, non-rusting container.Everyone aboard should know the location of the flare box, and it should be the first thing grabbed if the boat sinks and the crew must abandon ship. You may not be able to eat a flare in the life raft, but it's going to be just as hard to signal a ship or airplane by throwing a can of beans or a granola bar at it.

Conclusion
The ORC Special Regulations are a basic textbook for preparing a boat for offshore sailing. The Special Regs won't tell you what brands of gear to buy, and they won't tell you how to install them in your boat. But they will give you a good idea of the basic equipment required for offshoresailing, and will help you find both the good and bad features of your boat. The Offshore Racing Council's "Special Regulations Governing Minimum Equipment and Accommodations Standards" are available from USYRU (P.O. Box 209; Newport, RI 02840). They cost $3, and they can be worth a fortune if you want to prepare your boat for offshore sailing.

Sponsored by Practical Sailor Magazine

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