Safety

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Sailing can be dangerous. Generally speaking, it is safe enough, and some people sail for a long time without ever really needing any safety gear. Nonetheless, almost all boats carry such gear. Some safety gear is to prevent problems, some is for what happens when they occur, and some is merely needed for anybody who can not call 911 and expect emergency help within a few minutes.

One very useful piece of equipment we have on board is an EPIRB. EPIRB stands for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, and it is just that. If something happens to your boat, you activate your EPIRB and it transmits a signal to help people locate your boat. In our case, the EPIRB has a GPS (Global Positioning System) and transmits its exact coordinates, within a few feet, to emergency communication satellites. It also transmits and identifying signal, so people know which boat is in trouble. These satellites relay the emergency signal and the coordinates to people who will come rescue you. Some EPIRBs transmit a line-of-sight message in a frequency that airplanes are obliged to monitor, and they can track it and relay it to rescue people. These EPIRBs are less expensive, but not as good when you plan to be crossing oceans where airplanes rarely fly and time to rescue is critical.

EPIRBs are useful, but by the time you are located, you could already be dead. In cold or rough waters, it is important to have some way to stay afloat even if the yacht is destroyed. Ocelot came with an eight person life raft that it was required to have while it was in charter. While a life raft does by no means guarantee survival, even long enough for a chopper or another boat to pick you up, it does greatly increase your chances. People have been known to live for more than a month in such rafts. An eight person raft is probably larger than we need, but it is still good to have.

On the other hand, our dinghy makes a fairly good life raft all by itself. It is fairly dry, has a good engine (the life raft has no engine at all,) and is easier to deploy. Using the dinghy as a life raft also means we can sell the life raft, and reduce the weight at the back of the boat.

We also carry flares and loud bells which can be used to attract attention. These are useful to call attention to yourself if you need rescue, but are also useful if a large freighter or something similar is bearing down on you and they don't know.

Ocelot also comes with radar reflectors mounted on her rigging. Sails are not dense enough to reflect radar waves, and a sailboat's mast is easy to miss. Radar reflectors have a lot of metal surface area, and are designed to reflect as much of the radar pulse as possible. This, too, is very useful is a large vessel is on a collision course with your boat and can't see it.

Safety equipment for Ocelot is very important, but at sea, you can get injured or killed without even leaving the boat, or at least not very far. That is why we have harnesses. These are arrangements of straps that go over your shoulders and around your arms, chest, and upper back. They have points in front for attaching lines which secure you to the boat. When you need to move around the boat as it is moving, or when the weather is extremely bad, you put on the harnesses and attach yourself to the boat. Unfortunately, these harnesses and lines only keep you from going too far, they don't actually keep you afloat. This is why you also wear a life preserver while you wear a harness.

One set of safety equipment that Ocelot has, and probably doesn't need, are emergency hatches. These are set on the underside of the boat, though above the waterline, and are intended to let you get in or out of the hull if it flips over. This may sound like a good thing, but consider these facts before you come to a conclusion. First, cruising catamarans in excess of 37 feet long almost never flip. Ocelot is 45 feet. Second, the chances of anybody surviving a boat the size of Ocelot flipping are low, and even if you do survive, the emergency hatches are only one way of getting in and out of the hull. Third, they are a hazard. They leak, they have been known to punch in on other boats, and they are a security risk. They can not be easily removed, certainly not while the boat is in the water, although they could be boarded up. Unlike some boats, ours are too close to the waterline to be opened for even forventilation, and they are general nuisances.

Just about every boat carries at least one anchor. Ocelot currently carries three. One is our standard plow type main anchor. Our second has two flat flukes on a hinge for situations where two anchors are required. Our third is a 65 pound aluminum Fortress (two big, flat flukes which can rotate partially around a bar attached to the anchor shank, which is attached to the anchor line) storm anchor. This is too big and heavy for normal use, but can hold the boat securely in almost any condition except one... deep water.

This is actually a real problem. Storms don't wait, and if you are in the middle of a crossing, you can't drop the hooks and expect to hold. Even if you have enough rope/chain on your anchors to reach the bottom, it won't really help. Most of the time, your boat needs a minimum of 4 to 1 scope. (Scope is the ratio of horizontal distance to vertical distance from your boat to your anchor.) Usually, a 6 to 1 scope is preferable. In a storm, you want 10 to 1 or better. Even in a relatively shallow depth of 200 feet, that requires over 2000 feet of line per anchor!

This is why sea anchors were invented. A sea anchor is essentially a strong parachute designed for use underwater to hold a boat. A sea anchor is used to keep a boat from moving very much when it is too deep to use a normal anchor. To aid in recovery, sea anchors have trip lines that, when pulled, will fold up the parachute. The only real danger in sea anchors is that if the sea anchor is deployed at in such a way that when the waves near it are pushing forward, and the waves at the boat are pulling back, the sea anchor will drag the boat into the oncoming wave. Therefore, the distance from the boat to the sea anchor should be as close to an exact multiple of the wavelength as possible.

There is no fire department on the open seas. Although Ocelot has less wood than some boats, fire is still a real problem. That is one of the main reasons most boats use diesel instead of gasoline (which is explosive.) We also have propane tanks on board. Propane, in gaseous form, is explosive. This is why the locker with the tanks needs to be vented, and why we have many fire extinguishers on the boat. Not that the extinguishers will stop an explosion, but they could help prevent one by keeping a small flame from spreading. The most susceptible areas on the boat are the engine rooms and the galley. We have at least one extinguisher on hand in each of those locations, and a few others.

Just as we can not call the fire truck and expect to have it arrive in minutes, there are no convenient ambulances on the open waters. Even if we can get medical help, it won't come quickly. Therefore, we have to know how to care for ourselves. My parents and I are CPR certified, and my parents took some fairly in depth emergency medical courses before we left. We also stocked up on medical supplies for advanced first aid, plus books and CD-ROMs with medical information and instructions in them.

The last category of safety equipment, though far from the least important, has already been covered in communication gear. Communications are very important to water safety. Being able to reach other boats and/or the shore on VHF, HAM, and satellite phone is very, very useful and quite important in an emergency.

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