Here’s the balance of the safety gear ruminations that didn’t make it into the last two posts. Bottom line, gear breaks and safety can quickly become an issue; so minimize the likelihood and have resource available to deal with it as best you can. The same goes for the boat. The best passage preparation is knowing your boat; the sounds, look, and feel of how it should be. You want to get to that distant shore in one piece, but also with nothing more important to do than hike to a killer view.
1. For boaters who have been successfully cruising for awhile, don’t be lax about inspections or convince yourself the last one was “not too long ago.” Do a complete inspection of the rig, rigging, through hull fittings/hoses/clamps, steering components, autopilot, sails, and safety equipment. It’s best if someone else, like another cruiser, helps out. They’ll catch things that you’re used to seeing and might miss. In the 2010 crossing I think of at least 20 boats with very notable problems in one or more of these areas. Just about everyone had at least minor issues.
2. Start watching weather patterns at least a week before intended departure. Gribs are a nice and often misleading tool, so use them as only one piece of the weather puzzle. Have an intended departure date, subject to change based on weather condition. If the weather is not right FOR YOU, don’t go then. Don’t expect the weather to be like books say. Currents meander and “normal” trade winds are subject to influence from variables like La Nina.
3. Your EPIRB registration allows you to edit a note field online. Update that field before each passage with the dates and start/end destination of trip. While you’re at it, check out my friend Toast’s recent blog post about International SAR, and make sure those registrations are all current and talking to each other.
4. Have an emergency radio “cheat sheet” near the radios with documentation number, MMSI, Station ID, and with step-by-step instruction for different type of emergency call. If you’re exhausted or a wreck under pressure, written steps help. We created this in a laminated sheet and would be happy to email it to anyone interested- just contact us.
5. We would often talk about “situations” with our children – not in a dire way, but to educate them. Only small bits stick, but response themes develop: we know we can count on them for getting out of the cabin for one emergency situation or finding the nearest grown-up for another. It also helps attune them to situations and make them full crew members: junior knows to tell you about subtle but odd / different sounds, you might find a plumbing elbow has cracked, spraying fresh water into the bilge.
6. Below deck, stow things well, especially galley items. I seemed to have near misses and stopped using knives in any kind of seaway. Weeks worth of meals offshore can get interesting (or tedious) when you’re bouncing around so much that it takes four hands to get and add just one ingredient. It’s helpful to do some cooking ahead, and have a list of one-dish / easy prep meals aboard. This truly does not come naturally to me, and required practice! Lots of easy, nourishing, dense snack items help too.
7. Squeaks and rattles will drive you nuts (leading to a gruesome outcome, no doubt). If you know of any now that occur now when underway, fix them if you can.
8. Safety equipment, including first aid gear, is more subjective then I thought possible. I’m not really going to go here now. Just don’t go offshore with regrets about your preparation. This is different than not feeling “totally ready”, because nobody ever does. Know what safety gear you have and that it works properly when you depart. Once off the dock you have to live with it, literally.