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Sailing Safety Advice and Information

By: Sandy Bolan - Updated: 28 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Sailing Safety Overboard Boarding

Whether you're a novice or experienced sailor, it is important to properly prepare for your time on the water, while still on land to ensure sailing safety.

Check the weather of your chosen route and destination. If the weather is not optimal, either change your course or re-schedule. Keep in mind that weather conditions can change in an instant - be prepared to alter your voyage mid-way or quickly return to dock. When you hear thunder, head in.

To help in planning your sailing safety, tell someone where you are going, your route and your expected return time. And check the boat and equipment to ensure completeness, proper conditioning as well as working order.

It is also important to know the limitations of your boat and your seamanship skills if you want to ensure sailing safety.


Sailboats are prone to capsizing, which means extra care boarding needs to be taken or you will spend the entire trip soaking wet. The first person to board the vessel is the skipper. He/she has to step as much into the centre as possible. The centre board should be lowered all the way - it can be left this way for the rest of the day. Once the skipper is on board, he/she will balance the boat appropriately, while the crew is boarding. Note: never step onto the boat's edge or jump into the boat.

The position of the skipper and crew throughout the voyage is vital for sailing safety. The skipper should always be seated opposite the boom (a pole connected to the foot of the mainsail, which enables the control of the sail in relation to the wind). The skipper controls the boat's direction by either pulling or pushing the tiller. The crew balances the boat so the hull remains flat in the water, according to the American Model Yachting Association (AMYA).


Believe it or not, when it comes to sailing safety, capsizing is something that should be practised, but in a controlled environment.

The two most common ways in which a boat capsizes is: during a gybe - which occurs as the boat travels away from the wind, or when the skipper and crew encounter an unexpected gust of wind. The boat can also become inverted in the water, known as turtling, when the skipper does not get to the centreboard fast enough.

According to the AMYA righting a capsized or turtled boat is as follows:

  1. ensure all occupants are safe
  2. the skipper has to get to the centre board, while the crew swims to the front of the boat and grabs the painter
  3. the crew swims the bow of the boat into the wind
  4. the skipper then climbs onto the centreboard to right the vessel.
In order to correct a turtling, the procedure is the same as for capsizing, however, instead of using only the centreboard to right the boat, the skipper must also use the jib sheet.

Man Overboard

Rescuing a crew member who has fallen overboard into the water, is an emotionally and physically-tasking job in the best of conditions. Add some choppy water and night skies, and the rescue is virtually impossible. However, being prepared in rescue procedures gives everyone a fighting chance.

First, everyone on board should, at all times, wear an approved personal flotation device such as a life jacket. The life jacket should also be equipped with a pea whistle and mirror.

A blast from the pea whistle, which can function when wet, can pierce through any surrounding sounds such as wind, chop and running engines.

Whoever sees or hears the man overboard (MOB) is the one to shout 'man overboard'. The same person becomes the designated spotter and will maintain visual contact with the MOB as much as possible.

A lifebelt and dinghy should be thrown over to the MOB immediately. Bring the boat head to wind to slow down and approach the MOB at 45 to 60 degrees off the wind. Throw a heaving line to the MOB and carry out the recovery on the windward side of the boat.

When You go Overboard

Maintain visual contact with your boat. Use your whistle and mirror to get the other passengers' attention and adopt a heat escape posture: 1 - hold your arms tight at the sides of your chest; 2 - press your thighs together and pull them up as close to the groin area as possible - this significantly reduces your body heat loss. Hypothermia can kick-in after 40 minutes in the summer and 20 minutes in the winter.

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