One of the first rules of sailing is to ‘stay on the boat’. There’s a good reason for this. Should one of us fall off while underway at sea our chances of being able to get back on depend on many things, including weather and sea state, and whether it’s daylight, the water temperature, whether the person in the water is conscious or injured…all those things and more come into play. We have a Life Sling on board and sure, we’ll practice with it. But what are the odds we’d have to use it under the circumstances that we’d be practicing in? Not very good, frankly. When I think of one of us actually falling off the boat, I feel like this:
The best we can do is to mitigate the circumstances under which we could or would fall off the boat. So we have safety equipment, and we have protocols. Knowing that we’ll be using logical brains to create rules for safety, and that we’ll have the right gear, means that I can sleep at night and not worry too much about this. Isn’t it odd the things our brains choose to be freaked out about? This one doesn’t freak me out much because in spite of the fact that I would be freaked if it DID happen, I don’t think it’s GOING to happen. So really, when I think about the chances of one of us actually falling overboard in the middle of the ocean, I feel more like this:
Maybe I’m in denial. That’s a good defense mechanism to have when it comes to leaving your home on a daily basis. I mean, if you think too hard about how dangerous a place the world can be, then just getting out of your bed becomes an exersize in throwing caution to the winds. Perhaps I’ve fallen under the spell of denial and it’s keeping me from perseverating on whether either of us would fall overboard. On the other hand, we do have a few things going for us on this matter.
We have a big, well designed boat. We have high lifelines, which we will not be depending upon to keep us on the boat, but which help. How does having a big boat help? Well there has to be a good deal of wind to get our boat to heel over very far, and she can take bigger waves than our Cal 34 could. When she is heeled over, we stay on the high side if we have to move about the deck. We have high freeboard, which is both a blessing and a curse, so waves have to be pretty big to wash over our deck. Our cockpit is super protected. It would be really hard to fall overboard from our cockpit. And if you did manage it, I guarantee that being overboard would probably not be the only problem you were having.
Furthermore, there are lots of handholds and we are very good about keeping at least one hand on the boat. After all, we learned to sail on a Catalina 27, then graduated to a Cal 34. Both of those boats were much more tender than our 47 foot Galapagos. We developed the habit of holding on tight from the get go and don’t take that for granted. Neither of us is too proud to crawl on hands and knees to get forward if conditions require it. And we have mast pulpits. Actually those sturdy mast pulpits are a very attractive feature of our boat. We also have high bulwarks, which give us something else to brace against when sitting down on the deck.
When we are on a passage, we will have harnesses and jacklines and be attached to the boat in the cockpit. The lines will not be long enough to allow a body to fall overboard. We’ve all seen those videos where people use their harnesses and the lines are actually pretty long and they go overboard and then get dragged under the water. No thanks. I prefer to stay on the boat no matter what, so ours will be too short to allow us to go over. We’re just going to have to make the rule, which we had on Moonrise when doing that overnight passage across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, that when conditions are rough you cannot leave the cockpit without your harness and line on at all times, day or night, when on watch alone or not. And no one leaves the cockpit at night at all without alerting the partner, regardless of whose watch it is.
The most dangerous thing is not being in high wind/waves at sea. Everyone is on high alert then and thinks about things like falling off the boat. The most dangerous thing is complacency. It’s when things seem safe and calm that people let their guards down. This causes behaviors like forgetting to put the PFD on when it’s a calm day, walking forward without paying much attention because the scenery is so nice, and in the case of men, peeing overboard. Ladies, don’t laugh too hard at the men. Women have been known to fall overboard this way as well, although on our boat this would be a mighty uncomfortable position. Just use your head and use your head.
A sobering statistic from the US Coastguard tells us how easy it is for people to become complacent, fall overboard, and then drown. This, from their 2014 statistics:
Where cause of death was known, 78% of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, 84% were not wearing a life jacket.
At the end of the day, these rules are only as good as the people who go by them. We will have to both agree that we will follow them all the time. Not just some of the time, but always. We’ve been discussing this lately and so far, we both agree to all of this. This summer we will be putting attachment points for tethers in the cockpit and deciding how to deploy our jacklines. If you’ve done this on your boat and want to give us your opinion of what would work for ours, please let us know or come by the boat.
What are the rules and equipment you have on your boat that help you stay on board? Got a confortable offshore PFD that you don’t mind wearing all the time? Let us know what you have. They are on our to-buy list for this year.
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