No Second Chances – Keep Your Safety Gear Up To Date And Buy The Best

Imagine yourself on a windy late afternoon running down-wind up the coast and looking for that next headland which should have a light on it. The crew are below cooking. With the southerly and dark coming in, you think you had better pull that pole down.

Autopilot is on and you don’t want to worry the crew so you do it yourself. In the rush of the moment you don’t clip your tether to your harness. Two minutes later whilst, wrestling with the pole end, the sail backs and you are in the water – overboard!

The boat charges on past you as you recover from the shock of going overboard.

There is no help from the crew because they are down below with the music on!

Three scenarios flash through your mind as you watch the stern light and the lighthouse in the distance start to flash.

Scenario 1:

You are wearing a jacket, pants and boots or less (standard attire for most cruisers). It’s time to kick the boots off (that’s why you always have them one size too big!) and start to swim. You wonder how far to shore: 2 kms? 6 kms?, and the 3 knot current won’ t help. It’s getting cold, you’re treading water and the waves keep landing on your head. It looks like a lo-o-o-ng night. Where’s the boat? Surely they must be looking for me by now? Guess they will back track. Forty minutes have passed and you’re getting tired. You don’t think you can beat this current to get ashore. You will have to tread water to save energy.

Scenario 2:

Along with your jacket you have a standard manual inflate Personal Floatation Device (PFD) harness and old 121 MHz personal Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), the one you have had for years (after all they still work). So if you didn’t crack your head on the boat on your way over the side, or more likely get smacked by the boom or pole, you will be able to start inflating your jacket and get the EPIRB out and turn it on. You can see the lighthouse flash. Is that a stern light you can see? Too much salt in your eyes and no torch!

You’re floating well but there are lots of waves around and the wind is getting up. What is the response time to a 121 unit anyway? At least the light is on!

Scenario 3:

Imagine the surprise when the cylinder goes off and the auto PFD inflates around you as you’re starting to swim and yell to the boat. You had better grab the whistle and give that a go. You start to realize what a good feature the full overhead spray cover is as another pile of white water dumps on top of you. Better set off the “glad I invested in the new 406 khz Satellite version and that extra money for the in-built GPS version” EPIRB. You can be sure the signal will go straight to a satellite then to sea safety HQ. As the registration included your name, boat and family contact details the authorities will know who is in that 5 square metre search zone as given by the GPS unit. If your passage is logged with shore they can call the ship with your position!

You notice another light! Oh, it’s the strobe light going off! What else does this thing have? Oh yeah, the emergency tether-cutting knife in case the boat goes down. You won’t need that tonight. You should have ticked the coffee box, maybe a sachet in the pocket next time!

Things are looking better. Twenty minutes they reckon. Bit of luck they will call the boat and give them your position. They must be worried and back tracking the plotted course by now. You can feel the current taking you out. The lighthouse blinks are fading, you’re getting cold, but still optimistic. An hour later the keen lookout aboard your yacht spotted the strobe light and heard my whistles.

As they ran past to get down wind a call was heard and a life ring flew out with a flashing light going off. I bet you’re glad you got the supernova strobe job! It flashes well on the life ring reflector strip.
Swim, swim, let’s go! With the boat coming up into the wind and the crew with the spotlight on you, they drive past dragging the life sling to get ahead. When they fall off the wind the sling comes cruising by. Very cold! Glad we practiced this!

They could see you in the sling so they went up wind again to hold station. They move slowly forward whilst hauling the sling in. As the yacht had a sugar-scoop platform you land like a fish on a wave with your mates dragging you the last with the sling. This seemed better than the haul up the side version at the time.

Greatly relieved and revived by a rum-toddy we call sea safety to call off the search and turn the Police boat around which was still four hours away.
The log will get a full entry and Huey is thanked for his providence. You pat your fancy new safety gear as you clean it, rearmed, repacked and ready for the next watch.
Perhaps leave that kite down tomorrow arvo!

Hopefully this story is a clear reminder to take the time to use your safety gear correctly, be responsible and get the latest, best Tether/Harness/PFD/personal EPIRB combo and wear them offshore. The new ones are comfortable and easy to wear. PLB (Personal Locator Beacons) units can also be carried when bush walking or driving. We are now five months after the change over date for GPS. Auto inflate will always be safer than manual in a MOB situation.

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