Safety Isn’t a Four Letter Word
By Michael Argyelan
Anyone living in the Chicago area has heard of tragedies involving our greatest of lakes, harbors, and tributaries. Whether it’s a fisherman falling in the water accidentally, a man overboard during a sailboat race, or the soft spoken gentleman a few docks down that decided to take friends out during a gale, accidents happen when on or near the water and we all need to think safety first.
As the Store Manager at Crowley’s, I hear so many stories in the store and around the yard. Some end as a comedy and some as tragedies. The most recent was of a MOB during a MORF race. Turns out that in the heat of the moment, “things”, very important procedural things, were missed or forgotten. All ended well with the sailor brought back aboard safely and a successful debrief. How can we prevent mistakes? One key word comes to mind, preparation.
Our boats are safely snuggled up in a boat yard, shivering and dreaming of warmer times. This does not mean our season is over. It’s never over if you’re planning on being prepared. This article will not be the be-all end-all to all things safety. We can only give you tips, tricks, and products to be aware of. It’s up to you to stay up to speed on all the rules, regulations, products, personnel, and hardware on your vessel.
Do you and your guests know where your safety items are aboard? If not, it’s time to use the off season and make up a safety diagram. Find a diagram of your boat or a similar boat (try sailboatdata.com), and mark where your safety items are. Items we mark on my boat are the knife, flashlight(s), fuel shutoff, battery switches, fire extinguishers, PFD’s, flares, and wood plugs/through hulls.
With that last list in mind, don’t forget to check your equipment for optimal operational status. Check all extinguishers. Make sure your flares are up to date. Make sure the fuel shutoff opens and closes smoothly.
If your PFD’s are inflatable, take them home, blow them up manually, and let them stay inflated for 24 hours. If they are just as full as when you left them, you’re good to go. If not, it’s time to check for leaks. With the same PFD’s, check the dates and condition of your cylinders and see that they are in optimal working order. If you don’t have whistles on your PFD’s, get some.
Do you have an air horn or signaling device? You need one. Do you have extra batteries for your flashlight? When was the last time you replaced them? You get the idea.
Going above deck, we need to check our lifelines, hand rails, stanchions, and pulpits. Be sure to check the bases for cracks and the fittings for corrosion. Do any of the fittings leak below deck? If that’s the case, you will be dealing with wet spots in the deck and have weak areas where you need strength.
When was the last time you practiced a MOB drill? Have you ever been shown recommended methods? If not, it’s time to get on YouTube and watch some videos, at the very least. I highly recommend having a written procedure that you practice at least twice per year. The process should be memorized. Only practice will develop the necessary muscle memory to be fluid while on the water in a panicked situation. A general Google search will bring up images and videos on techniques like the quick stop and figure 8 methods.
What equipment do we recommend above deck? At a minimum, we recommend having a horseshoe buoy attached to a 50 foot heaving line that floats that can be tossed carefully to the victim. That’s bare minimum.
The next step above that is the Lifesling2.
The Lifesling2 is highly recommended and has a horseshoe shaped buoy with the heaving line attached all neatly stowed in a bag that hangs off the stern rail. The next step above the Lifesling2 is the MOM8.
MOM stands for Man Overboard Module. The MOM8 is one of the most advanced products in man overboard safety equipment. Here are some notes from the manufacturer’s website, “With the MOM 8 the only focus is on pulling a single pin. Located on the top of the canister is a deployment handle, which when pulled, releases the bottom of the canister and allows the inflatable devices to automatically inflate while falling into the water. When inflated, the ballasted Locator Pylon has a 6-foot waterline height. Located on top of the pylon is a water-activated, lithium-powered, flashing light with 5 years of life. The light can be seen nearly a nautical mile under normal night conditions. The pylon has 2 SOLAS reflective panels to aid the boat's search. Tethered to the horseshoe and the pylon is a 16" diameter, ballasted, self-opening Sea Anchor to reduce downwind drift keeping the victim in the same position as when he went overboard.” Pretty amazing huh?
To summarize, you mount the unit to the stern rail following the instructions, pull the pin in a MOB scenario, the unit automatically deploys a MOB pylon with a light, a line, a horseshoe buoy, all without thinking past step three of pulling the pin. If you don’t know what step one and two are in a MOB situation, it’s time to study!
Safety on the water applies to us all. Power, sail, race, or cruise, all boaters need to take safety seriously. If you have any questions, we are here for you. If you have an experience, tip, photo, or anything safety related you’d like to share, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.