Skip to main content

Observations from a Safety at Sea Course

Safety Moment, Cruising Club of America

Chuck Hawley

The Pacific Cup Yacht Club sponsored the second day of a hands-on Safety at Sea Course at Encinal Yacht Club this past weekend. About 90% of the students had used the US Sailing online course to fulfill the requirements of the first day’s course material, while about 10% had previously attended an in-person course.

Teaching a course to sailors from a variety of sailing backgrounds provides a great opportunity to see what they know and what they don’t know, which in turn allows us to tailor the curriculum of future seminars to meet their needs. After polling the coaches (CCA members Michael Moradzadeh and Jim Quanci as well as Safety at Sea Moderator Bruce Brown and rigger Glenn Hansen), the following are our observations:

  1. Everyone was surprised at how difficult it is to board a life raft from the water when wearing life jackets and foul weather gear. Adding darkness, rough saltwater, and unfamiliarity with the features of the raft would have made it incrementally more difficult. A number of the boarding assists were invisible to the “survivors” from their vantage point in the water. Where to grab handles, where to place one’s feet, etc. proved too difficult in the daytime and would be virtually impossible at night.
  2. To demonstrate the dangers of cold water, students assumed a “scarecrow” position in the water to expose the maximum surface area to the cool water. Then they tucked into the HELP (Heat Escape Lessening Posture) position to conserve heat for a minute (ankles crossed, knees drawn up to the chest, elbows pressed against their rib cages). Then they extended their limbs so they were back in the high heat loss position. Everyone commented on the rush of cold water and the benefit of conserving heat using the HELP position.
  3. The popularity of inflatable life jackets from many vendors caused confusion. The “ripcords” are not in the same location, and may not look anything like the classic “jerk to inflate” lanyard. Many ripcords were tucked into the shroud, preventing access if the water activation did not work. Students with zipper closures on their life jackets had to practice where to burst the zipper to gain access to the oral inflation tube should the device not inflate automatically. The admonition to “know your equipment” was reinforced multiple times.
  4. Saturday’s fire demonstration showed that not every extinguisher is equally effective. We constructed a debris fire from waxy cardboard lunch boxes and some lighter fluid. Using a fire blanket, which is required on many ocean races, the fire appeared to be suffocated, but immediately started up as soon as the blanket was removed. Having used a fire blanket in many “grease fire” simulations, it became apparent that the glowing embers of the Class A debris fire allowed the fire to reignite repeatedly. The dry chemical extinguishers were far more effective on it, albeit incredibly messy.
  5. Finally, there was curiosity (and confusion) over the various “beacons” that are available, including modern SARSAT items like EPIRBs and PLBs, crew-overboard alarms of various types, as well as AIS receivers and transceivers. The technology is advancing so quickly from the hardware and satellite perspective that it’s very difficult to select various products and which is best for each application. One of the goals of the Safety at Sea courses must be to categorize and simplify the explanation of the different systems.

I am delighted that Organizing Authorities have embraced the training that US Sailing offers through its partners (Cruising Club of America, Storm Trysail Club, New York Yacht Club, US Naval Academy, Pacific Cup Yacht Club, Transpac Yacht Club and many more). With continuing cooperation from the course organizers, there’s no doubt that we can continue to meet the safety training requirements of offshore sailors.