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What's the minimum your sailing partner should know?

by Des Ryan on 19 Nov 2012
Panic - does he or she know enough to get you home? .. .
Some years ago a sailor took his non-sailing girlfriend cruising out into the Pacific Ocean from San Diego for the day. After a pleasant few hours they turned for home. Unexpectedly, in mild weather, he fell overboard. The girlfriend knew so little about the boat that she froze and didn't call for help until the boat washed up on a beach. The sailor was never seen again.

You may be overboard, but also you may be incapacitated. What is the minimum that your sailing partner should know when they go sailing with you? Obviously, as the true story above (which sends prickles up my spine every time I hear or tell it) demonstrates, they should know enough to operate the boat and some of its simple functions, alone.

Here is a check-list of skills that your sailing partner needs to know as a minimum to go sailing together:

General boat handling, in case you are incapacitated. They should know:

1. How to get the sails down, how to sail simply and conservatively.

2. How to lower and raise an anchor.

3. How to steer a simple compass course

4. How to set the autopilot or windvane if you have one.

5. How to start and stop the engine safely.

6. How to heave-to.

7. Where the flares and life jackets are located for emergencies

8. How to boil water on the stove safely.

9. Where the bilge pumps are located and what they do.

10. How to operate the SSB or VHF radio, dependant on where you are sailing.

Then, for the all important MOB situation:
(yes, I know, it's NOT going to happen to you - but that's why, on my count watching the statistics mount, more than 10 people a year are lost in MOB situations in relatively calm water):

1. As specified above, they should know how to use the radio, specially on emergency frequencies, and where the MOB button is located. They should know how to set off the boat's EPIRB.

2. They should know how to disconnect and throw over your danbuoy or life ring

3. They must know how to start the engine, and douse the sails. Even if they know how to steer the boat, unless they are a seasoned helmsman they will probably not be able to return the boat to you, so the previous two points become vital.

How well prepared are YOU for the possibility that you will, at some time in the future, be incapacitated or missing and need your partner to maximise your chances of a happy outcome?
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