Death by Dinghy

Anchoring at sunset
Having operated adventure training organisations - trained staff and dealt with incidents, on land and water for more than thirty years - I've seen that the simple, the routine and the mundane are the most likely places to have problems. When embarking on a great adventure, stepping into the unknown or preparing for rough weather, we take precautions, wear safety equipment etc.

Sunset -all is calm but what about a dinghy trip back to your boat at night, if there is a strong offshore breeze?

The dinghy seems to be that routine place where too many people come unstuck, perhaps because they become over-confident. Death by Dinghy happens repeatedly. And very often when making the trip back to the anchored yacht after dinner, in the dark with perhaps a few drinks to help people drop their guard, impair judgement and make them more susceptible to any problem becoming a disaster.

The dinghy - the cruising sailor's favourite companion
.. .

A strategy I often teach is to consider the situation in terms of risks and consequences. The risk of a problem might be low, but the consequences very high, so take precautions. If the risk is high and the consequences are high, avoid it. Better to sleep on the beach.

Small outboards are notoriously problematic. Fixing them or pulling repeatedly on the start cord in a floppy dinghy (no longer a tight pontoon because the sun is down and the water is cooling the air inside) with a flexible floor on a choppy sea is a recipe for going over the side. A risky enterprise. Falling out of the dinghy at night, in the dark, with no lifejacket, drunk, in a choppy sea has to be a very high risk activity.

Because water is not our natural environment, the situation can change very quickly from fun to really serious. We don't have gills, we don't float well, we get cold quickly in water and we are not natural swimmers. Everything is against us. Therefore it's vital to offset our natural deficiencies with some technology and smart strategies.

1. Wear a life-jacket; the inflatable type is not a big burden.

2. Check what yachting organisations require when wearing a precautionary life-jacket on-board in Cat 2 or Cat 1 events at night or rough seas; a PLB. If it is proven prudent to use on-board a far more secure and robust vessel when connected with a safety harness, it's smart to use in a relatively risky dinghy in far less difficult conditions.

3. Effective oars, an anchor with line, drinking water and bucket. Waterproof torch if either journey - to or from the beach/jetty - could occur after dark. (Any other suggestions?)

4. Do not overload the dinghy. Always a fun favourite when the crew has a few drinks, or some people want to go back early and others stay behind. But a disaster waiting to happen in the wrong circumstances.

5. Report in. Take the waterproof VHF radio (with DSC) and setup a reporting arrangement with someone on a nearby yacht and/or on shore. Tell them when you arrive safely on the beach/jetty, when departing the beach/jetty again, and when safely back on-board. Have an agreed strategy about what will be done if you do not arrive as planned/expected.

6. If travelling with a rally or cruise-in-company group, establish some standard procedures which everyone can count on without making specific arrangements, Such as everyone keeps their VHF (with DSC) radios switched on in their boats when at anchor. And everyone agrees to take certain items with them in their dinghy. Makes solving problems much more reliable and eliminates many uncertainties; such as did they have lifejackets, did they have a radio, is someone listening on-board if we call, etc.

7. In marginal conditions - current, dark, long distance etc - send one dinghy at a time, so others are in a position to help or raise the alarm if needed.

8. If the risk is high, but the technology and/or smart strategy advantages to tip the balance in your favour are not available or not sufficient, don't do it. It's really that simple. This is recreation. Nothing is so important to justify dying. Stay on the boat or stay on the shore. It's not compulsory to put yourself, family and friends in danger. The repeated evidence is dinghies are deadly.

About Alan Riches Brunei Bay Radio:

Brunei Bay Radio operates a Limited Coast Station providing HF/SSB radio voice and email services, for recreation, tourism and commercial vessels. The assigned call-sign is V8V2222.

Brunei Bay Radio is located at the geographic centre of South East Asia, at approximately 5 degrees North and 115 degrees East. This central position facilitates an effective HF/SSB radio coverage throughout this rapidly developing region where isolated islands, coral reefs, and forest areas are the venue for conservation projects, cruising yachts, exploration, adventure activities and traditional communities.

The website – - has lots of useful information for sail and engine powered cruising yachts; in particular those planning to visit SE Asia and surrounding areas. Contact Allan via email –