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​​​​​​​New Year’s Resolutions

An expired extinguisher can Really ruin your day. Courtesy Red & Black

Safety Moments, presented at CCA Stations and Posts”

By Chuck Hawley, San Francisco Station, January, 2023

Ah, New Year’s Resolutions. So easily suggested; so quickly neglected! Lose 20 pounds, get regular exercise, reduce intake of saturated fat, and cut out that last glass of wine in the evening: we’re very good at making promises to ourselves, and then allowing them to fall by the wayside as the weeks of the new year speed by.

But what about the resolutions we make with regard to the safe operation of our own sailboats and cruisers? How many times have you heard a fellow voyager say “Ya know, the next time we’re out, we ought to do a man overboard drill” or “I need to post instructions for how to broadcast a Mayday in the nav station.” With full knowledge that seamanship resolutions may have the same chance of succeeding as those we make about our behavior on land, I nonetheless suggest that we resolve to do the following:

  1. Actually do a man-overboard drill, unannounced, with an inanimate object that vaguely simulates a person in the water. A fender and a bucket work reasonably well. Try this on a variety of points of sail, especially off the wind, where some sail adjustment is necessary so the vessel can fetch the victim. You should decide in advance if you are the “victim”, and therefore won’t participate in your own “recovery”.

    You can judge the success of the exercise by the smooth operation of the boat as it returns, the control of boat speed, and a lack of direct contact with the “victim”. Is there a practical means of hoisting or reboarding the victim? Can the sails be struck to prevent the boat from sailing away? Would the rescue have been successful?
  2. Take the time to write down the procedure for broadcasting a Mayday or a Pan-Pan. If you’ve got a DSC-equipped radio, make sure the GPS is always on when the VHF is on, or you’ll be missing out on one of the great safety improvements of the 2000s. What is the Coast Guard going to want to know verbally? While the DSC fingerprint will provide a lot of information, a verbal description of the vessel name, nature of the incident, and number of people on board is extremely helpful to the Coast Guard.
    If you don’t have a DSC-equipped radio, buy your boat a belated Christmas present and hook it up to your GPS. It’s one of the most cost-effective pieces of gear available.