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Old 01-11-2006, 05:03 AM   #1
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Default Safety Gear for Pacific crossing

Hi- I am planning to crew on a boat crossing the Pacific to the Marquesas and beyond. I have corresponded with a number of boats, all with different safety gear. As a novice, what items should I make sure the boat I crew with has? I know a dingy will not cut it if you go down in the ocean, although some Skipppers think that is okay. Any advice on the "must haves" to ensure my safety? Thanks, Kitty
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Old 01-11-2006, 08:46 AM   #2
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Some amazingly unprepared people safely cross oceans in some pretty poorly equipped boats.

In my opinion, more important than safety gear is the knowledge and experience of the crew, and the seaworthiness of the boat.

Knowledge and experience requires that there is somebody capable of fixing things that break, or at least finding a way to make do without the broken gear. Seaworthiness requires that boat and gear be in well-maintained condition. Rigging is checked for weakness or damage before each and every offshore passage. Sails are in good repair, lines are in good condition.

IMO, the cleanliness of the boat is a fair indication of the care with which it is maintained. Dirty, greasy topsides - not good. Lines that are knotted rather than spliced, frayed, old and stiff - not good. Badly stowed gear lying around - potentially dangerous and an indication of sloppy thinking. For crossing any offshore passage I would be very distressed to see jerry jugs stowed on deck obstructing safe access to the forward deck. Other risks of this practice are even greater.

Knowledge and experience ensures that there is always somebody on deck to maintain a watch, and that person knows what they are looking for and looking at. Does that sound cryptic? We had a young fellow sailing with us in the Bahamas and he had no idea that a tug boat approaching us was too close and required avoidance measures, nor did he understand that we had the maneuverability to get out of their way, they did not have the maneuverability to get out of our way.

There's more to this, but I hope this is a start.

As far as "safety gear". Crossing the Pacific, I would recommend:

proper Personal Flotation Device (PFD, or also called a life jacket), and safety harness fitted to you. There are many nowadays, approved by the Coast Guard, that combine both the safety harness and the PFD.

Links to some examples: http://www.defender.com/product.jsp?path=-...36864&id=337716

http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-m/MSE4/pfdiiiinf.htm

And here's a link that defines the various "types" of PFDs: http://www.boatingsafety.com/boats/cgpfds.htm

A whistle on a lanyard to be worn by every person on deck. A personal strobe for each person to be worn. This would make it easier to be seen should you fall overboard.

The boat should have a 406 EPIRB. I personally think that it would be prudent and safer to have a High Frequency radio, either Marine SSB or Ham radio, and the knowledge to use it. Most passagemakers will stay in touch with other boats as they make their crossing, with a scheduled radio meeting once or twice a day. There are many accidents at sea that are non-fatal that, if help can be obtained, results in discomfort perhaps, but does not end in tragedy. Communications with other cruising or commercial vessels in the area would be preferable to relying upon distant search and rescue operations.

I hope that other cruisers on this board can contribute their ideas because on this I am very opinionated.

My final two cents (for a while, anyway): I don't believe that there is anything, anyone, anyplace, anywhere, that can ensure someone's safety. Although the overwhelming majority of boats setting out to cross oceans arrive safely, nasty things can happen. All you, or anyone, can do is to do their best to ensure that they are as well-prepared as possible and are on a boat as well-cared for as can be.

Cruising the South Pacific is an incredible adventure that you will remember fondly forever.

Fair winds,

Jeanne
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Old 01-11-2006, 12:44 PM   #3
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Hi Kitty,

Jeanne has given you a lot of good advice so I will not be repeating what she wrote but would like to mention a little more about the boat's general condition.

After a lifetime (well 37 years feels like a lifetime) at sea in ships of all shapes and sizes from yachts to coast guard cutters and passenger ships to destroyers I have learned that the most important part of a ship / boat is the bilge. In an emergency, a dirty bilge can result in blocked bilge pump strum boxes which, in a worst case senario, could result in the loss of the vessel.

A good, clean bilge is, I have found, to be the best sign of a well kept vessel. Why? Because it is out of sight but, hopefully, not out of mind.

Jeanne is right, check the topsides, check the degree of 'slopiness' but check the bilge too!

Go well and enjoy your trip.

Stephen

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Old 01-11-2006, 07:51 PM   #4
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Kitty, I think Jeanne's comments are just excellent; hers is advice well worth heeding. You'll notice it has much more to do with how the crew/owners are maintaining the ship than it is about 'gear'.

Here's how I'd answer your Q, just to give you another slant on things:

-- judge how well found the ship is using Jeanne's and Stephen's comments

-- ask to be shown your harness, PFD and overboard gear (light, whistle, perhaps more) and judge their quality & functionality; ask to be shown how the harness is attached when on deck and in the cockpit, which will tell you how 'functional' the use of a harness will be; keep in mind that some boats might expect you to furnish your own safety gear

-- ask if you can see the 406 Epirb (a real 'must have' piece of gear); (I'd really worry if it wasn't relatively easily accessible); look at the decals to confirm the battery has not expired and it has been registered within the last 2 years - another good indicator of a well-managed ship and critical to the unit performing its job

-- ask when the liferaft was last serviced and how big it is; views vary on the importance of a liferaft aboard and we know experienced sailors who do not carry one; however, I have yet to meet a sailor who's yacht foundered or burned to the waterline who found a liferaft incidental

I agree with Jeanne's logic about a SSB radio and we carry one for the same reasons, but I don't think it is a good criterion for you to use. Many experienced/safe European sailors do not have SSB radios (unlike most North Americans), and in a real emergency the 406 is going to be the most effective 'call for help'. I would put a SSB on the 'nice to have' list.

Obviously, delving into these questions with a crew will require some tact...but if done well, they will end up being impressed with you rather than object to your Q's. If they do object to discussing such important issues, that's a signal in itself.

Jack
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Old 01-11-2006, 08:21 PM   #5
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Good, Jack and Stephen. When a fellow was invited to sail with us for several weeks, his father gave him a list of questions to ask about safety gear, quite similar to what Jack mentions. We were very pleased that he asked, and proud of our answers. Nobody you sail with should resent questions regarding their safety.
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Old 01-12-2006, 05:46 AM   #6
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Thanks Everyone.

Kitty
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Old 01-12-2006, 01:10 PM   #7
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Just as a matter of interest, on Nausikaa I have a safety check list itemising all the points to go through when a new crew member or guest comes aboard.

I take the 'new recruit' around the boat, pointinhg out each bit of kit and describing its use. This covers both obvious safety equipment, e.g. fire extinguishers and liferaft but also safety routines such as man-overboard routine, how manthe head works (closing the valves when not in use), keeping scuttles closed when at sea etc.

After our walk-about, I sit down with the new crew member and we chat a little about what we have been looking at, and other related subjects and clear up any questions the new person might have.

It might be a bit formal, but I then get the new crewmember to sign a form clearly itemising what we went through and stating that he/she has received the apropriate information.

This obviously is a safeguard for me and a way of checking that no safety item / routine is forgotten but also just as important for the person just joining the vessel.

This methodology is used on all well found commercial vessels as well as navy and coast guard ships. I can recommend it to fellow cruisers as well.

Also, professional seamen have regular safety drills. Commercial vessel requirements say that drills must be carried out once per week and immediately on leaving port if more than 25% of the vessel's crew or passengers have been changed. I am not suggesting formal rules along these lines be laid down for cruising yachtmen but I do recommend that skippers practise different emergency drills fairly often. These drills could include, for example, engine fire, galley fire, stove in scuttles or ports, broken tiller/rudder/steering, failed s.w. valve, broken s.w. cooling hose, parted shroud, man-overboard, collision etc.

I wish yopu all safe Voyages!

Stephen

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