Top tips on keeping your crew safe

17 November 2020

We recently published an article on how to keep your crew happy. Well, whilst happy is good, safe is essential. In this article, we’ll set out a few things you, as skipper, should be considering when running your boat so as to keep your crew safe.

  • Maintain a periodic checklist for the various elements of your yacht, from seacocks and engine maintenance through to checking and replacing SOLAS equipment such as liferafts and lifejackets and the condition and run of jackstays, etc.
  • Choose the right people for the passage. If you are planning a pleasant weekend in the Solent in July (a bit like Gibraltar on a dull day) then you might expect the sailing to be easy and the sea state unchallenging. But if you plan to cross the Bay of Biscay in February, you might have a very different experience in mind. Make sure you choose the right crew and the right number of crew for the voyage.
  • Choose the right people for the task at hand. Once you have a crew, make sure to split the crew equitably between the watches so that each watch has a mix of abilities. Having one watch with lots of experience but limited physical fitness or another watch that composed entirely of people that suffer from seasickness is not a great idea.
  • Know your crew. On passage, make sure that your crew tell you of any physical limitations or health issues they might have. And make sure they carry any medication they need and have them show you where they keep it. In the case of severe allergies or heart conditions, this information might be lifesaving.
  • Keep them informed. It’s easy, as skipper, to become so involved in the running and navigation of the vessel that you forget to keep everyone else in the loop! It can be frustrating or even unsettling not to know basic information about the voyage, weather forecasts, etc. And if you expect to cross a shipping lane or have a squally night, communicate that vital information to both watches.
  • Dress for the conditions. Exposure and dehydration can both kill frighteningly quickly, especially in extreme conditions. Make sure your crew bring along the right kit for the passage. If you are providing wet weather gear, make sure it is clean and in good condition. Old ‘foulies’ can become porous, wet and therefore ineffective over time.
  • Keep it clean. Hygiene on a boat is very important. The potential for cross-contamination from the heads to the galley is a real risk. And once someone onboard has a bug, you can assume that pretty much everyone will get it - unless strict protocols for hygiene are introduced. Keep cleaning kit for the heads in the heads and cleaning kit for the galley in the galley! Maybe colour code cloths and mark detergents and other liquids. Allocate different people to regularly clean the boat and to prepare food. That way crew roles are shared and everyone is responsible for each task at some point.
  • Don’t be over-ambitious! As skipper, you are responsible for the health and wellbeing of your crew. Make sure to sail the boat to the crew’s skill sets and not to your own. Plan your passage well in advance and make sure to leave nothing to chance.
  • Lead by example. It’s very easy for a poor culture of safety to creep into a crew’s DNA. In large part, this is because a skipper might set rules but she fails to enforce them or fails to explain them or fails to abide by them herself. Compile your Standing Orders. Explain them to the crew and why they exist and make sure you stick to them yourself!
  • Always introduce the crew to the boat and its systems and delivery a comprehensive safety briefing both on deck and below. When on the water run through at least one man overboard recovery routine before you depart and make sure that everyone understands the procedures and where everything is kept. Also, make sure that others can start the engine, drop the sails and send a distress message in an emergency.

In conclusion, as skipper, you are the adult in the room. You need to be thinking ahead and thinking primarily of the security and safety of the boat and the crew that the boat accommodates.

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