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Ocean Sailing the Safe Way

Sailing miles out at sea requires special safety considerations!

Sailing in the infamous 1979 Fastnet Race, when an unforecast storm with 85 knots demolished the fleet and caused 15 deaths, a number of safety factors relating to personnel came into focus for me. We all were wearing a good sturdy harness (Lirakis) and we had jacklines or jackstays on either side of the boat running from the cockpit all the way forward. Jacklines are wires with eyes at each end that are lashed down to the deck at the bow and cockpit. They run inside of any sheets. This permits you to clip your harness on the wire before leaving the cockpit and thus have unobstructed travel all the way forward while remaining clipped to the wire at all times. Without a jackline, you have to unclip and reclip at various spots along the rail, leaving you vulnerable when unclipped to a sudden lurch or a wave throwing you off balance and over the side of the boat. It only takes a second. It's a good idea to leave a jackline rigged at all times when sailing offshore.

Another rule we observed in regard to harnesses (other than the obvious one of not snapping onto anything that might break - like a lifeline or anything with a strain on it, such as a stay or shroud) was to pass our own clip to a crew member on deck before emerging from the companionway hatch. A crewmember is vulnerable to being washed overboard during the few moments he or she is unclipped just as they come on deck or when they are about to go below. When going below, you should leave your harness attached until you are safely inside the hatch and then ask a crew member on deck to unsnap it for you and reverse the procedure when going on deck so that you are always clipped on when on deck.

Happy Sailing from Steve Colgate, Founder of Offshore Sailing School.