Members' Online Book: Person Overboard Prevention, Chapter 16 of 17

Should We Wear Lifejackets or Harnesses, Both, Neither?

Usually, by the time I put my fingers on the keyboard to write, I’m reasonably sure of my position on the subject. But this chapter is different since I’m conflicted on pretty much every aspect of:

  • When should we wear lifejackets?
  • Should they be self-inflating?
  • What about lifejackets with built-in harnesses?
  • Would a simple harness without a lifejacket be better?

The one thing I’m certain about is that blanket rules like:

  • everyone should always wear a lifejacket;
  • a lifejacket with harness is always best;
  • a harness without a lifejacket is always best;

will not keep us safe and can even be counterproductive in some circumstances.

Or, to put it another way, the most important piece of safety equipment we have is the one between our ears—rational thinking beats dogma and other people’s rules every time.

But, on the other hand, I also believe that each of us must come up with our own set of rules.
And those rules must be rigorously enforced on our boats on a day-to-day basis.

It’s fine to sit down in a quiet moment in a crew meeting and modify our rules and procedures in light of new experience, equipment, or information, but no winging it in the heat of the moment.

So, with all of that out of the way, here are the rules that Phyllis and I currently apply to the lifejacket and/or harness question, as well as some other related issues, and our reasoning.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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