Preparation for a long sailing voyage – Safety Equipment

Preparation Before Embarking on a Long Voyage – Part 1: Safety Equipment

Inspired by the imminent Oyster World Rally, Vortec Marine office conversation has turned to what preparation is involved for a long voyage.

Preparing for a long adventure sail has many elements, and this article looks at the most important, Safety.


1. Liferafts

lifeboat preparation

(img from windtraveler blog)

Do you need one? Liferafts are expensive, bulky and if your vessel is under 13.7m there is no legal requirement to carry one. But if you are heading off on an adventure, can you really afford not to?

Don’t be fooled into thinking a dinghy or RIB is a suitable alternative, as these will easily flip over in a swell and offer no protection from the elements.

Type & Size: Consider hiring a liferaft as a cost-effective alternative to buying your own.  There are various categories, offering different levels of protection.  Whichever you choose, make sure it is large enough to carry everyone on board, especially if you intend to pick up passengers for various legs.  It would be disastrous to have 6 of you on board but only a 4-person raft.

Stowage: Your liferaft should be on deck and easy to access in an emergency. Using an HRU (a hydrostatic release unit) will launch the liferaft automatically if the HRU sensor is under a certain water depth. Make sure the painter is correctly attached to the HRU, which includes a ‘weak link’ which will break and release the liferaft once fully deployed.

2. LifeJackets

range of lifejackets

How Many? You should carry enough for all crew plus a couple of spares, just in case one gets damaged, fails to go off, or is hidden under a bunk and you can’t find it when you need it.  You should also carry spare gas canisters, just in case you accidentally inflate yourself on a guardwire or from a rogue wave.

What Type? Choices come down largely to personal preference, but do make sure you choose the correct buoyancy for your weight (not just the biggest you can find). Each lifejacket should have crotch straps and splash hoods attached – anyone who has completed an RYA Sea Survival course will know first hand the difference this makes.

Servicing: Coded or commercial vessels are required to have their lifejackets professionally serviced annually, but even pleasure sailors should regularly check their lifejackets;
– check the lifejacket fabric for signs of wear and tear,
– check the gas cylinder for signs or erosion
– inflate the jacket manually and leave for 24 hours to check if there is a leak in the bladder.

Wear It: With modern designs, lifejackets are comfortable and unobtrusive, so don’t just take them – wear them!

 3. Lifelines

What type: There should be plenty of lifelines on board. Ideally some with different designs – some single strop, others with a double clip which allows you to either choose a long or short length, as well as to reposition your line without ever being unattached.

Jackstays: It is also essential that there is something to clip onto – i.e. jackstays. These should run the full length of the yacht allowing crew to move around during manoeuvres. If these are attached to the boat using shackles, check them regularly for corrosion and ideally fit with split rings to prevent accidental release. Webbing jackstays are the most common, and you can prolong their life by checking for chafing and not leaving exposed to UV rays whilst in marinas.

4. Register your EPIRB

EPIRB processAll commercial ships, and most conscientious yacht owners will have an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon) on board. These can be triggered manually or automatically, and will send a coded distress signal to the nearest rescue centre.  EPIRBs with inbuilt GPS can enable rescue services to pinpoint your location to within 50m.  The EPIRB must be registered to the vessel, so if you have a new EPIRB or just bought a new yacht – make sure you update the registry via the MCA (in the UK) as it is actually an offence not to keep your registration up to date.
Email: for any help.

5. Flares

Whilst VHF and GMDSS, and mobile phones are useful for contacting help, flares are still an important part of your safety repertoire. Make sure your watertight flare box contains a mix of orange smoke, rocket and handheld flares.

6. Grab-bag

What’s Inside?  Your life raft should contain a little ‘emergency ration kit’ , but with very little effort you can organise your own. Ideally use a brightly coloured watertight bag which should always be easily accessible so you can simply grab-and-go in case of emergency. Pre-pack it with some chocolate bars, long life food, bottled water, any regular medications you would need, a torch, a spare knife and suncream. Maybe even a little line-fishing kit and pre-made first aid kit.  Once you’re onboard pop your passport in too.


In our next blog, we look at recommended training for long-distance cruising sailors.

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