Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ask The Tillerman - Play Safe

First in a series of posts on "how to" subjects for newcomers to sailing as suggested by readers of this blog...

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.


Eliboat said...

The footwear item is critical. I will not go racing without closed tow shoes. I see people in racing dinghies going shoeless, and I have no idea how they can do that without nailing their toes a minimum of 100 times every race. I see it all the time though, so maybe they figured something out that I haven't. On big boats while cruising, barefoot is another matter, though my toes have found padeyes and jib leads often enough to be very careful.w

EVK4 said...

100% correct, this should be posted every few weeks to remind people. I allow adults the option to not wear a PFD but ridicule them if they don't.

Seriously, why will a kid wear it if we won't? On bigger boats you can even wear an inflatable...why wouldn't someone wear that? You don't even feel it.

Carol Anne said...

And the cool thing is with advances in technology, both shoes and PFDs have become so much better than they used to be. There's really no excuse to skip either.

Christy ~ Central Air said...

Excellent advice, TM! I would add that protection from dehydration is another important objective. Being out on the water under the hot sun with the wind in your hair and your hands full, it's easy to "forget" to get enough fluids going. Drink water - and a lot of it! If you feel thirsty, you're already showing symptoms of dehydration.

Zen said...

Good Advice!

An ounce of prevention...

JSW225 said...

Shoes? Are you serious? The only time I've ever worn shoes was at Island Heights Yacht Club where the 420's were parked on razor sharp red gravel. I don't mind gravel, but I caught one of those in the soft part of my foot and started to bleed. But now I just wear the shoes til I get on the boat, then I take them off.

You guys and girls might think that it would be horrible to get my feet hurt. I think it's horrible to not know exactly where my feet are in a boat. I can't feel anything with shoes on. I've never gotten hurt.

PeconicPuffin said...

Slip, Slop, Slap, and perhaps SLIDE some sunglasses on. Proper shades provide protection against the formation of cataracts (I think) and definately shield sensitive skin around the eyes from sun damage (a popular spot to get skin cancer.) UV protecting contact lenses are available (I wear them) but the opthamologist still suggests sunglasses.

I like Christy's comment about hydration...if you're thirsty you're already diminished. Proper rigging of your body should include hydration!

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