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Ocean Safety 2021 - LEADERBOARD

Pre-season checks with Dee Caffari - set your yacht on a safe course through 2021

by Mark Jardine / Dee Caffari 31 Mar 2021 12:32 UTC
Dee Caffari MBE © Ocean Safety

The sun is shining and we're all raring to get back out on the water and enjoy our boats, but it's vital that we spend time checking through some of the key safety equipment on board and ensuring the boat is all set for the season ahead.

We spoke to Dee Caffari, the record-breaking yachtswoman and Ocean Safety Ambassador, who has recorded an extremely useful video to highlight some of the main areas to think about before launching for that race, cruise or family sail:

"I need to practice what I preach and I'm a strong advocate for safety at sea as I know all too well that when it goes wrong it happens really quickly at the worst possible time. It's a snowball effect - one little thing leads to another thing and if you're not prepared you end up with problems.

"I do a lot of work with the RNLI, so I really appreciate that their volunteer service is under pressure when everyone sees the good weather, restrictions lifted, and rushes to the water. We need to be responsible as sailors and take our own safety into our hands. There's so much we can do in preparation, and it's the simple little things, such as checks on the through-hull fittings, the wooden plugs, your safety gear and servicing, lashings, which are so easy to overlook, but could end up critical in keeping us safe."

The video will only take us a few minutes to watch, but is such a useful tool at this time to remind us all of what needs to be done:

"It feels like you don't get any return from safety checks, but this investment of time at the start of the season helps familiarise yourself and check places in your boat which you don't often go to. Ocean Safety are so keen on education and making sure people grow their awareness and understanding, as they obviously supply and service the safety equipment and want it to work in the best way possible. People need to understand the equipment they have on board as it's not a 'buy the ticket to tick the box' item. Have it onboard for a reason, understand what that reason is, know how it operates and look after it so that it'll operate correctly when you need it.

"There aren't any ground-breaking ideas, it's just the simple reminder at the start of the season when you may have forgotten a few things, so I'd suggest a nice afternoon aboard your boat, before you invite the family down, to go through the checklist, make sure you're happy with everything as you're responsible for your boat and everyone on it."

Many of the jobs are very simple, including checking safety equipment is within its service date and looking for visible signs of wear-and-tear:

"It's easy really and you can have a look at everything while putting items back on your boat. The equipment all has service dates on, so you can keep a service record, and by doing these physical checks you can remind yourself how an item operates and how it should be stowed.

"We've all had horseshoe buoys in their frames where we've lashed them on as they may look a bit wobbly, but we have to remember that when someone has gone over the side unintentionally, we want to be able to deploy the horseshoe straight away as it will help them stay calm and speed up the rescue."

Thinking through what you'd do if a situation arises may well help you with positioning and stowing of vital safety equipment:

"Rather than thinking 'I have to have this equipment on the boat', it's about how you operate the safety item. There's a surge in doublehanded sailing and we have to remember that if someone goes over the side then you're suddenly a singlehanded sailor, so you need this all to be within reach of where you're sat, without too much stress, as you're going to have enough to deal with getting the sails down, turning the boat around and retrieving your crewmate. Think about not just the service dates, but also how you are going to use the equipment. This isn't just for the professional crews who do the racing circuits - this is for everybody."

Over the winter months we've been enthralled by the Vendée Globe race, a race Dee Caffari is very familiar with, where we saw Kevin Escoffier's PRB snap in two, leaving him with a very short time to deploy his liferaft:

"It goes to show us all that it happens to the best sailors in the world. These are professional sailors at the top of their game and it happens in the worst place possible, showing if we're going cruising and don't use our boat as often, it's even more important that we check that everything is as it should be and know how it operates. The biggest comment that Kevin made was that even though his liferaft was on deck, he'd secured it so tightly to ensure the seal wasn't broken that when he came to use it he was having to cut the securing lines under the water as the level had risen so quickly while deploying the liferaft. It's already made him think about changes that need to be made with safety equipment in the IMOCA class which he's reporting back, and I'm sure the rules will be adapted to take in this experience."

Dee's season starts straight away, having launched her boat on Monday after lockdown restrictions were eased:

"We're planning to do a couple of days of practice as the first race of the season is upon us on Friday, which is the JOG Lonely Tower Race, then on Saturday we have the first RORC race of the season. It's a great start to get back into the swing of things, blow away the cobwebs and remember how we operate the boat doublehanded. The playbook will be in my pocket to remember all the little tips we learned last year."

2021 is all building towards the Rolex Fastnet Race, where there are close to 100 yachts in the doublehanded division, which Dee is very much looking forward to:

"It's amazing! The race is iconic to start with and gets sold out within seconds of coming online. To see the doublehanded class grow at such a fast rate shows that many people have seen in the past year that it's the best way to sail yachts with the restrictions, risks and complexity of getting a crew organised.

"People need to be really aware that the course has changed, so there will be a lot of shipping lanes to deal with and approaching the finish you'll be crossing the busiest waterway in the world. Also your trip home will be 60 miles back to the Solent, if that's your home, and that's back through the shipping lanes again. We really do need to be super-careful as a doublehanded class, but the fact that there are so many of us means we can keep an eye out for each other. It's going to be some fantastic racing!"

Let's all have a really enjoyable, but most importantly, safe 2021 sailing season.

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Ocean Safety 2021 - FOOTER