11 April 2016

Staying Onboard

Falling or being washed overboard is the greatest danger to which the sailing man is exposed. In heavy weather, the sense of self-preservation makes most people act on the sailor's old maxim 'one hand for yourself and one for the ship'; the risk of going overboard is therefore greater in moderate weather when a moment's carelessness or a sudden unexpected lurch may send one headlong over the side. -- Eric Hiscock in "Cruising Under Sail"

This is such a big topic that I think its useful to break the one big risk into a number of smaller risks, and to then tackle them one at a time.

  • Minimize the need to leave the cabin
  • Minimize the risk of going into cockpit
  • Minimize need to go on deck
  • Minimize the risk of going on deck
  • Minimize the risk of being overboard, i.e., the risk of being in the water

I find it fascinating that Robert Manry and Roger Taylor handle the problem from opposite ends of the spectrum:

Roger minimizes the overall risk by minimizing the need to leave his cabin. He can steer, trim his sails, and even reef, all from the safety of the cabin hatch. He rarely ventures out on deck in good weather, and almost never in bad, unless necessity demands (and it almost never does!)

Manry and Tinkerbell waving to passing plane
Robert, on the other hand, minimized the risk of being in the water itself, and he did it simply by choosing the right boat. Whether he was pitched out of the cockpit by a breaking wave, or simply tripped over his own two feet, being in the water was no big deal. Since Tinkerbell had no self-steering, she'd round up into the wind, stop, and wait for Robert to climb back aboard, which was fairly easy to do because of her low freeboard. No stress. Easy out, easy in.

So it's clear that this risk can be attacked in many directions, not just one, depending on the sailor and the boat. I'm going to look at each risk as it applies to the Blue Moon and myself, and see how I can minimize the risk in each category.

Next Up: Staying Onboard - Part 2


  1. John, a subject that's close to our mind. When Erica and I are sailing offshore we don't leave the cabin without clipping on our harness. It's not that a harness will prevent falling overboard, but the act makes us more mindful of the risks. I tend to do all the sailing handing and we have rigged our boats so that the work can be done from a comfortable and as stable as possible positions.

    It's also something that a smaller lighter boat helps with, the sails and loads on our 4 ton sloop were much more easy to handle than those on our 16 ton cutter, making the operation and by consequent risks reduced - at least in my experience.


    1. I'm with you when it comes to harnesses. But I have some work to do to make working on deck safer on my boat.

      I'm of two minds about the merits of smaller vs. bigger boats. The Blue Moon's sails are definitely easier to handle than those on a bigger boat, but I'd much rather go forward to handle the headsails on Luke Powell's magnificent Agnes.

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    3. I can't figure out how to post an image in comments, but here's a link to Luke's site for anyone who doesn't know Agnes: http://www.workingsail.co.uk/

  2. Pre-planning, and angst about going overboard, are fine at this stage. But, don't let the worry of that spoil the voyage for you, once you leave. All of life is a risk, in one way or another, and the aim of life is to enjoy it for as long as you can, not to lengthen it at the cost of enjoyment.

    1. lol... my wife and business partner have different ideas ;-)

  3. Things to reflect but not to spoil the moment.
    Totally agree with you , Luke's cutter is beautiful.


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