What do I need to wear to be safe when sailing?
1. Protect your skin from the sun. You know that, right? When you're out on the water sunburn is a risk even on cool, hazy days. Sunburn hurts. Skin cancer can kill. So Slip-Slop-Slap. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat. And don't forget sunglasses too.
2. Protect your feet. Oh yeah, I know that barefoot sailing feels so cool. I used to do it too. Sail a Sunfish off a clean sandy beach and you might be OK. But in most sailing situations there are just too many hazards to the feet -- on and off the water -- to risk going barefoot. Docks have splinters and protruding nails. Launching ramps and beaches have sharp rocks and broken glass. Kids can get their toes trapped under an Optimist on the land. Boats are full of objects on which you can stub your toes.
OK. OK. Maybe I'm a bit paranoid on this one. But in all the years I taught kids sailing the most common injuries I saw were foot injuries. We were supposed to have a strict policy that the kids wore shoes with closed toes all the time, on land and on the boats. On the few occasions when some kid forgot to bring his or her sailing shoes (and I wasn't in the mood to be mean enough to ban them from the program that day) there was a high probability that the kid would end up with a crushed toe or cut foot by the end of the day.
Note that comment about closed toes. Flip flops are worse than useless for sailing.
3. Wear a Portable Flotation Device. Some of you may also disagree with this one. I know a lot of sailors -- on dinghies and bigger boats -- hate the constriction of a PFD and prefer to sail without one. Here are the reasons why I wear one all the time when I am on or near the water.
- Accidents happen however smart you think you are. People fall off docks. People fall off boats. Boats capsize. Boats even sink. I do most of my sailing single-handed and sometimes with no other boats around. It is possible that I might capsize and lose contact with the boat. I might even get a blow to the head from the boom before I hit the water. Wearing a PFD I can stay afloat longer and in my bright yellow PFD I am more visible to any potential rescuers.
- It's a good example to others. I used to belong to a club which had a rule that juniors had to wear PFDs all the time but a lot of the adults didn't bother to wear them. This used to drive me crazy. What kind of example were those folk setting? Especially as most of the kids were far better swimmers than the old geezers.
- Wearing a PFD is usually compulsory at the Laser regattas that I attend. What's the point in practicing without a PFD if I have to wear one when I race? I'll just get lazy about ducking under the boom properly when I tack and then in a race I'll get my PFD caught on the boom in a 25 knot tack and capsize the boat.
Just my two cents. Make your own decision. It's your funeral.
OK. That's enough preaching for now. Next article will be about what to wear on the boat to stay warm and dry. Well, warm anyway. If you want to stay dry I suggest you take up some other sport like hitting little balls down holes with a stick.