11 Things We Do To Stay Rational About Safety

Safety is important, but so is getting out there.

I have been writing a lot about safety lately: person overboard, storm survival, fire at sea, and so on.

All important stuff. But I do sometimes worry about how this all relates to our primary goal here at Attainable Adventure Cruising, as stated on our homepage, of:

Helping you go cruising.

Now most people would say that writing about safety is part of that mission, and that's true, but there is also another aspect, which Winston Churchill defined way back on 16th November 1943:

You may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman, or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together—what do you get? The sum of their fears.

He was pointing out that while each military adviser may be brave and decisive, they each have their own demons. And so if they are all in the same room planning an action there is a good likelihood that they will get mired by their collective fears and take no action.

The answer to this problem is the presence of a strong leader who holistically weighs the chances of success against the risks, cuts through that paralysis to order decisive action, and then takes responsibility for the outcome—in WWII that leader was often Churchill.

So what does this have to do with offshore sailing?

Never before have we boat owners had access to as much writing, and video, about safety equipment, techniques, and strategies as we do today.

Although that can be a good thing, it also exposes us relentlessly to "the sum of their fears". To every:

  • Blog writer's bad safety-related experience.
  • Marine journalist's pet fear. (I will tell you about mine in a minute.)
  • Tale of disaster on FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter and so on.
  • Salty sailor's hard and fast opinions, based on their own worst experiences, on what we must add to our boats and do at sea to be safe.

And here's another important takeaway. We can't arrive at action by trying to determine the validity of each fear, because many of them (maybe most) are valid.

Rather, each of us who skippers an offshore sailboat must be that decisive leader who filters all of that safety information to decide what's important to our boat and intended voyage. Otherwise we will never leave the marina.

Easy to write, very hard to do, and yet the very essence of what it means to be a seamanlike skipper.

So how can we achieve that? Since each of us is different, I can't give you hard and fast rules, but here's how I have managed not to be paralyzed with safety fixation, but still skipper a safe (I hope) boat on multiple voyages, many to scary places like Greenland.

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 25 years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 20 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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