The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Safety Inspection and Gear For a New-To-Us Boat

I get to see a lot of yacht details from brokers, and I have recently noticed that a new ‘cut and paste’ message has been appearing in them more frequently, to the effect that no warranty is given or implied concerning the age or condition of any emergency or safety equipment.

Of course, this makes absolute sense for all AAC readers with our innate sense of responsibility for ourselves and our crew (doesn’t it?), but it also suggests to me that insurers are taking a close interest on this subject, which ought to ring alarm bells for all of us, so doubly important to get this stuff right.

Safety or Emergency

To that end, I base my thoughts here on what I consider constitutes ‘safety’ versus ‘emergency’ equipment and planning.

To me ‘safety’ implies prevention of a risk through planning, and ‘emergency’ implies that the risk concerned is now fact. Both need to be addressed, and it’s not all about money.

One of them takes time, careful thought and experience….

So a gas alarm is a safety feature, as is AIS or a deck harness, whereas flares, a fire extinguisher or a lifejacket are emergency equipment. A searchlight can fulfill both functions, making things slightly more complicated, but you get my drift.

Let’s look at both:

Emergency Equipment

Sherpa has had little use for 4 years, so we knew that much of the emergency equipment would likely be degraded through age or simply out of date (e.g. pyrotechnics).

So we initially conducted a review of all the emergency equipment aboard, to inspect for any damage or other age-related issues, and to ensure that all the equipment that we have aboard meets our minimum requirements for an offshore boat.

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Alastair Currie

Regarding heaving lines, when bought new, the line is packed for transport and stock storage i.e. it is not ready for use. I removed mine, unwound it, then repacked again but ready for use.

Drew Frye

This is more than just an inspection, as you know. Let me expand.

The line is typically coiled and cannot be deployed without 15 minutes of untangling. My last boat was like that. The line must be flaked with the sling on top, float side up.

Some people forget to cover the line connecting the sling to the boat with webbing. UV will eat it through in a few years. I had to fix that.

I read of a yacht club test day where they deployed a sling (not Lifesling) and there was a taped together, zero strength spool splice in the line. The assembly line worker didn’t care.

Iain Dell

I replaced the plethora of danbuoys, liferings, lights etc that were cluttering up the pushpit with the JonBuoy system that serves all the functions and adds the means for a MOB to get out of the water quickly, if able. However, it was very expensive and your point about the fallacy of just throwing money at an issue was well made. As the thing needs an annual service anyway, on our final cruise of the season I now intend to activate it so we can see what really happens. We keep a 6:1 tackle permanently rigged (and regularly practiced) that my wife is able to hoist me onboard with but we skipped the actual bit with the buoy. Many thanks for a wake-up call.

John Harries

Hi Iain,

While looking at all this, assuming you have a sailboat, you may, depending on how your boat is set up, wish to consider going directly to halyard and getting rid of the six part tackle:

Dick Stevenson

Hi Colin,
Good article. Appreciate the reminders of the important things to pay attention to.
I have always thought white flares a good idea. In fact I used one in when along the shore in Central America and one of the coastal freighters was unresponsive to vhf and bearing down on us. Never did talk but the white flare seemed to catch his attention.
The last few times I have shopped, I could not find white flares. Mine was one of the “gun” types (Orin?) which I got rid of before going to Europe.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick Stevenson

Hi Colin,
Yes, Agreed. My flare bag has a pair of leather work gloves in it whose protection comes some way up the arm.
I have organized pyrotechnic times where cruisers can bring flares for practice (and fire extinguishers) and found that flares varied widely in how safe they were to ignite and for their likelihood to drip hot material: it would be terrible to burn a hole in one’s raft, for example, with a hot drip, and I think that all too likely and very little discussed (not at all) in writing I have seen.
I always liked the “gun” type flares for their intuitive ease of use, safety and simplicity, but certainly recognize that they never met SOLAS standards and had other down sides.
 I have a strobe light to pull into the rigging (used to have one on my tricolor) for white light signaling now, but suspect I will never use it. The electronic flare you mentioned sounds like it checks the boxes nicely and will undermine the regular infusion of buying expensive flares and the trouble of discarding old expired ones.
My best, Dick

Dick Stevenson

Hi Colin,
Better than a demo is to get hands-on practice. Years before we met in Lagos, Portugal,  “in our youth” I over-wintered there and arranged with the marina and local CG and fire department to have a morning of demos and instruction and some hands on practice setting off of pyrotechnics and fire extinguishers.
It was very enlightening. Even after a demo earlier, many had trouble with the firing off of flares and rockets (many were skittish/hesitant when it came to striking an igniter to the flare hard enough and the rocket was more exciting than some would wish). As well, if you do not know how to ignite your flares already or have forgotten, you will likely have a challenge at night when anxious and things are boisterous: the directions are often not easy to read or decipher or intuitive.
I have taken some of the ‘green” 3M tape and put it around select flares with a “flag” end where directions are written with a sharpie. Usually, a glance reminds me of the whole sequence.
Interestingly, no one then questioned the setting off of expired flares, but I have heard that recent events have disallowed the use of expired flares and rockets making gaining practice an expensive endeavor. Also, in our session, all expired SOLAS flares (up to 5-6 years expired if memory serves) and rockets were good.
There were similar challenges for the fire extinguishers. A surprising number did not really know how they worked nor how to use them when firing.
I would suggest that it is up to the skipper to ensure that the crew knows how to use this equipment: it was clear that many regular crew considered themselves largely just along for the ride and were unprepared to take the lead with either the pyrotechnics or the fire extinguishers.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Drew Frye

There are two brands of elelctronic flares with USCG and Transport Canada approval (Orion and Sirius). Pyrotechnic and electronic flares have diffrent strengths (8 hours then replace the battery with common cells and recognizable SOS pattern vs. brighter pyrotecnics). I’ve tested them side-by-side, and carrying both elelctronic and electronic is the right answer for this group.

Matt Marsh

If you do choose an eVDSD light signal device instead of (or in addition to) pyro flares, get an RTCM 13200 approved type. There are a lot of non-certified, non-approved ones on Amazon etc.; the RTCM 13200 ones should be good in all countries that allow eVDSD.

(The key difference being that the RTCM 13200 ones flash SOS in three colours at specified minimum intensities: amber & cyan visible for clear contrast against any shore light background, and also near-infrared at the sensitivity peak of standard military night vision goggles.)

They are only intended for night use, and only replace your mandatory pyro flares if you also carry orange daytime smoke signals (type D).

The eVDSDs that only meet 46 CFR 161.013, and not RTCM, are intended for American near-shore use only; other Coast Guards will be unimpressed if you carry those in lieu of flares.

Charles Starke MD

Hi Matt
Which flares are RTCM 13200? None of the specifications for Orion or Sirius in the US note this. Which other flares should be considered with this qualification? Thanks!
Best wishes,
Charles L Starke MD FACP
s/v Dawnpiper

Dick Stevenson

Hi Colin,
I would also consider one or two high water alarms as essential safety equipment. I use inexpensive “sump” alarms with a dedicated 9v battery tested a couple of times a season which was all that was available decades ago, but there are now “marine” ones for considerably more money.
In addition, a few smoke detectors. I have one in the forepeak, one above the electrical panel and one in the engine area. I know this was warned against in an earlier posting but I have had one in the engine area for years. No false alarms, but it has been sensitive enough to warn me of a loose alternator belt heating up, but before it started squealing and of the Espar furnace when it is carboning up and in need of service.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick Stevenson

Hi Colin,
With regard to high-water alarms and smoke detectors, I was writing to others as well as to you. It is my observation that these alarms are a very simple and inexpensive early warning system that many skippers neglect and that, to my mind, should be done as standard equipment from the factory. Early warning is just that: a leg up in reaction time that allows a response to get started before, say, one’s feet get wet as water is above the floorboards.
My best, Dick

Charles Starke MD

Hi Dick
I too have smoke and CO alarms in the engine room, galley and aft stateroom. Steve D’Antonio recently pointed to the utility of getting fire alarms that automatically connect by wifi so that all alarms go off if any one is set off.

This reminds me of an incident on a trip up the New Jersey shore. We have a tall vertical chart drawer parallel to and close to the engine room door. At night on watch while motoring with everyone asleep, I went into the engine room to check, and the latch on the chart drawer somehow became loose and the drawer swung open and shut me in. I did not know until then how hard it was for the off watch to hear me banging on the door. I now have three latches on the chart drawer!
Likewise it might be hard to hear the engine room fire alarm, unless it sets off noise outside the engine room.

Best wishes,
Charles L Starke MD
s/c Dawnpiper