The Safety Brief - A Guide for Skippers - Above Deck

The safety brief is a great opportunity to reduce the risks associated with sailing. Part 1 of our safety brief was below decks and largely concentrated on safety, good housekeeping, boat systems and what to do in the event of an emergency.

Set out below is part 2 of our safety brief checklist to be delivered on deck before putting to sea for the first time. By all means use it and add to it as you wish. Sail safe!

1: Instruct on the safe way to go to deck at night and/or when sailing at night. 

The importance of clipping on when in companionway and announcing your arrival or departure from deck should be highlighted. Have crew wearing lifejackets for the deck brief as this is a great opportunity to use the kit they are wearing.

2: Start at the pointy end..

Start at the bow and walk backwards. If necessary talk through parts of the boat and what they are called but if you are holidaying or day sailing trim this to suit. Most importantly, highlight the lifelines and how to use them, the anchor locker and windlass and how to use the windlass and anchor safely and locate and highlight the cleats and how to tie a line to them.

If the yacht has a furling headsail, point out the furling drum, the furling line and how it works. An understanding of the mechanism can help your crew later when you are instructing how to reef the headsail in a squall!

3: Control lines, blocks and clutches 

Point out the main control lines such as halyards, reefing lines and sheets. As people are walking down the deck, remind them of the need to check for open hatches when traversing the deck. Check the companionway hatch is closed as you cross the coachroof!

In the cockpit, illustrate how the clutches and jammers on the boat work and best practice for using them.

Point out the topping lift (especially if their is no rod kicker) and stress the importance of not opening the clutch without checking the topping lift is on a cleat or winch (dependent on the size of the boat).

4: Winches and winch handling

Dressing and undressing winches safely will save a lot of blackened nails, rope burn - or worse. Spend quite some time illustrating how a winch works, how to ease or let fly a sheet and the importance of good winch discipline. Right hand to dress and left hand to undress, always little finger into the winch. Never let a line run through your hands and I generally start with 3 turns on a winch to start.

When using the winch you can illustrate how we take load from a clutch to a winch and vice versa and why we use a safety turn on a loaded winch after use. Illustrate how to figure eight / flake a line on a winch for easy access and make sure everyone knows that a winch handle is either in its pocket, your crew member’s hand or in the winch being used - unless you own shares in a winch handle manufacturer perhaps.

5: Safety Kit On Deck

Sitting in the cockpit, take the opportunity to point out the horseshoe lifebelts, danbuoy, throwing line, man overboard recovery slings, flares, liferaft and anything else that is relevant.

Make sure your crew actually know how and when to use this kit. There is no point reading the manual during an emergency - it’s too late then.

Spend some time on man overboard procedures now, and reinforce it with a demonstration when on the water. You have already gone through VHF procedures in part 1 of your brief but remind people again.

If the engine start procedure takes place on deck make sure your crew know how to safely start the engine and engage forward, astern and neutral.

6: Emergency Tiller

Locate the emergency tiller and illustrate how it works. 

7: Other Kit - Check the Inventory

Check for buckets with lanyards, spare fuel, funnel, spare water, power cable, hosepipe (and connectors), kedge anchor and warp / chain, etc

This is a great opportunity to remind people not to slam the locker lids or catch control lines in the hinges! Headsail sheets and genoa car control lines seem particularly attracted to lazarette hinges - and they break them.

8: The Main Traveller & Mainsheet

Talk people through the mainsheet and traveller mechanism and highlight the need for the mainsheet’s clutch to be open and the sheet on a winch at all times.

9: The Dangers of the uncontrolled gybe!

When teaching competent crew students we will sometimes illustrate an uncontrolled gybe on the water (in a F2 with the kicker off and with plenty of warning of course). The lesson usually sticks, especially when they are reminded of it later in the week in a brisk F6 and ask “can you imagine the carnage if we crash gybed now?” 

You don’t need to illustrate a crash gybe, but certainly make it very clear that a dynamic boom and/or mainsheet can very seriously injure or kill the unwary crew. 

Pointing out areas of the cockpit where crew should not be dwelling for long, especially when sailing off the wind, is only prudent. Make sure crew know to keep low and move along the high side whenever possible and remind them again when sailing.

10: How and when to abandon to a liferaft

Remind crew that the boat is almost always the safest place to be (unless we are on fire) and talk them through a basic procedure for abandoning ship. 

Remind them that exposure and dehydration are the most likely dangers when in a raft and so we need to take water, food, additional clothing and communication equipment (including grab bags and flare packs, etc) if we abandon. 

Point out the strong point used to tie the raft to the boat during launch.

11: How to connect & disconnect power & water from shore.

Remind crew that we need to take our cable with us, that we always connect the shore end last and disconnect it first so that we aren’t handling a live power cable and remind them to bring along any additional converters - leaving them on the dock can be expensive and inconvenient!

Identify the hose and point out the water tank fillers. Take this opportunity to define the difference between the diesel tank, the holding tank and fresh water filler caps! If the caps open with a special key identify where it is and let your crew know. Diesel in the water tanks or vice versa isn’t a great start to your holiday.

12: Using warps, cleats and springs

Talk through how to effectively use deck and shore cleats and the importance of effective line handling. Talk your crew through how you control a line on a cleat and how you safely slip a warp when leaving the dock.

Not only will a proper briefing save your novice crew from broken fingers or an unexpected swim, it’ll also make you look much better when coming alongside at the end of the day..

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