Regular readers of this blog will know that I love to go sailing alone on my Laser around the local bays. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes things break. Lately I've been asking myself what I should be wearing or carrying with me on my Laser to deal with emergencies that might arise. What do I need to get myself home safely if something bad happens?
I partly addressed this question a couple of years ago with my Top Five Tips On How Not To Die On Your Laser. Perhaps the most important of these were to wear a life jacket (or buoyancy aid), and to wear a wetsuit or drysuit if the water is cold.
One of my top five tips was to sail with a friend. But often I break my own rule. I like the freedom to go sailing on my own without having to persuade a sailing buddy to go with me. I like the freedom to sail for as long as I want to where I want. I just like sailing on my own.
So what extra precautions should I take when going for a long sail in my Laser on the sea on my own?
I thought a good starting point to answer that question would be to use the Vessel Safety Checklist that Bonnie of Frogma wrote about at Introducing the Relatively New (And Entirely Excellent) Paddlecraft-Specific Vessel Safety Check Form! The US Coast Guard have long had a safety checklist to be used for larger vessels, but in conjunction with the American Canoe Association they have recently developed a checklist more appropriate for canoes and kayaks, probably in response to the growing statistical overrepresentation of canoes and kayaks in fatal boating accidents.
Yeah, yeah, a Laser isn't a kayak but I think this list could be a good starting point. Let's see if we can adapt it for a small single-handed dinghy. I'll give my opinions, but please feel free to add stuff in the comments.
1. I take it as given that the boat should be in good working order. No frayed lines. No obviously corroded fittings.
2. And we've already discussed being dressed properly for the conditions, including wearing a PFD.
3. High visibility clothing. Great point. It is hard to see a person in the water if they are wearing dark clothing. So I always remember to wear my bright yellow PFD and an orange hat when sailing alone.
4. VHF radio. Ahah. I think this is the most important thing I need to add. If something breaks and I'm totally unable to sail, and I'm a mile or two offshore, and god forbid maybe in the middle of a shipping channel, I need to be able to call out the emergency services to come and rescue me. I'm thinking also that it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a radio that I can carry on my person, not under a hatch on my boat. My worst case scenario is being separated from the boat and not being able to swim back to it. Not likely I suppose but it's as well to be prepared. There is also the possible scenario that the boat has turtled and I'm injured or too tired to be able to right it. Not much point having a VHF radio inside the hull in that situation.
Any recommendations on a portable, floating, waterproof VHF radio?
5. Cell phone. Something else that I ought to carry with me on the boat. Partly as a backup to the radio, and also for the scenario where I have to go ashore on some beach that may only be two miles away by sea from my launch point, but thanks to the unique geography of Rhode Island, it could be thirty miles away by road. That's when I need to call my wife to come and act as taxi driver. I guess it would help if the cell phone were waterproof? Any recommendations?
6. Compass/ GPS/ Chart. I can see a compass being handy if one of those sea mists sweeps in from Rhode Island Sound and I get totally disoriented to the way home. But do I really need GPS and charts for Laser sailing?
7. Paddle. Could be handy if it's totally impossible to sail home (e.g. broken mast.) I guess I could use one of those "praddles" that Opti sailors use. But how would you mount it or store it on a Laser?
8. Sound signal. Whistle? Horn? I've never believed much in whistles. Don't think you can hear them very far. But an air horn to use in the fog just before being run down by the high speed ferry to Nantucket? Maybe?
9. Navigation lights. Oh geeze, now we are getting serious. I haven't imagined getting into a situation where I was still out after dark, but I guess it could happen. Should I have a flashlight I could shine on my sail so I don't get run down my some massive coal carrier? It reminds me of one of Michael Green's Coarse Sailing stories, but I guess it's a simple precaution.
10. Flares. Now this is getting seriously serious. Do kayakers really carry flares? Should the crazy old geezer sailing alone in a Laser carry flares? In what situation would I conceivably use one?
11. Sun protection. I always lather up with enough SPF+++ to last me all day. Actually a more useful safety measure for me might be to carry a spare hat rather than a spare tube of sunscreen. This old head doesn't have much natural protection on top these days.
12. Food and water. I always carry a drink and an energy bar or two when I go for a long sail. I guess it wouldn't be any more trouble to carry a little more for the eventuality that my departure from civilization might be longer than expected?
13. Personal ID on operator. This is a good one. Always helps to identify the body I suppose. Or at least to be able to call my wife and say they've found me and I might actually recover. Actually I keep thinking I should carry some ID when I'm running too in case I have some medical emergency on the trail. Don't they make wristbands with IDs? I should do this.
14. Float plan with someone on shore. Another good one. I always tell my wife where I'm launching from and what time I expect to return. But I never put it in writing. Should I? And maybe I should be more specific about my expected route. It would help any rescuers to know whether I was 5 miles south or 5 miles north of my start point, I suppose?
15. Contact information fixed to craft. I had not thought of this before, but I guess there is the scenario where the Coast Guard or someone finds an abandoned Laser a couple of miles offshore or washed up on some remote beach and wonders what happened to the skipper. Do they launch a massive search operation or is he tucked up at home in bed already? I should do it.
16. Emergency kit. The paddle-craft checklist suggests first aid kit, knife, repair kit, fire starter... Fire starter? Oh geeze, this is starting to sound like that TV Survivor program. But maybe a first aid kit wouldn't be such a bad idea. At least enough stuff to staunch the bleeding next time I nearly chop off my finger. And what kind of boat repair kit would you need in an emergency on a Laser? All I can think of is a few pieces of spare line and a big roll of duct tape.
OK. What am I missing?
This post was sponsored by boaterexam.com who did make a contribution to the Tillerman Laser Sailing 2011 Campaign and Tuesday Night Beer Fund (TLS2011CATNBF). These folk do a nice job of promoting boating safety and, if you are in the USA, you can obtain your boating license from boaterexam.com.