Staying on Board Rules

If you sail long enough, you’re probably going to fall overboard sometime. (We both have!) Rule No. 1 for staying on board is to hold on. The old saying “one hand for the boat, one hand for yourself” is just as true today as in the days of square riggers. You’re responsible for your own safety first, and you never know when a wave or a gust of wind is going to take away your footing.

Here’s a basic rule that hopefully scares you into holding on for (shall we say) dear life. The U.S. Coast Guard calls it the 50-50-50 rule — if you’re in 50- degree Fahrenheit (10-degree Celsius) water for 50 minutes, you have a 50 percent chance of survival. You lose body heat quickly in cool water, and as the body cools, its functions shut down. The medical term for loss of body heat is hypothermia, and it can occur even in 70-degree Fahrenheit (21-degree Celsius) or warmer water.

In order to stay on board, keep the following tips in mind:

Hold on. Remember, “One hand for the boat, one hand for yourself.”

Consider safety when deciding where to sit. The cockpit (if you stay below the path of the boom) is usually one of the safest places.

Be ready for anything. Wind and waves can toss a boat about in any direction, or a boat can come to an abrupt stop if it runs aground.

Bend your knees for better balance if you must stand. Doing so lowers your center of gravity and lets your legs act as shock absorbers.

When moving from the cockpit to the mast or foredeck (or vice versa), take the path along the windward side. The lifelines or some other solid object, such as a handrail or the shrouds, provide extra support so you adhere to rule No. 1 mentioned earlier.Lifelines need regular inspection for rust and wear. Relying on a lifeline is convenient but can be risky if they aren’t well maintained. If the water is really wavy and rough, use a solid object inboard of the rail for support.

Never hold onto running rigging (lines used to trim sails), whether it’s in use or not. If the line is let out, you lose your hand hold and your balance (and in the worst case, your hand could get sucked into a block).

Sit down with your feet braced. This is the best position to work when out of the cockpit (that is, on the foredeck). If the water is too rough to walk around on the deck, you can crawl or even slide on your bottom to move around safely. And if conditions are that rough, definitely wear a life jacket and possibly a safety harness.

Wear nonskid shoes to provide traction. However, even with the best shoes, decks can be slippery.

If you’re steering and want to tack or jibe, make sure the rest of the crew is ready for the maneuver before turning the boat. In strong winds, hearing someone can be difficult if you’re at the other end of the boat.

This author writes about Deck over Concrete and Woodworking Bench Dogs. Visit the Woodwork Wardrobe Plans website for unique wardrobe cabinet design ideas.

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