The Most Dangerous Thing Offshore Cruisers Do

Last week I linked to a well-done report and some associated testing over at Practical Boat Owner that made a convincing argument that sidedeck jacklines are worse, at least when used with a standard 6′ long tether, than not clipping on at all, because of the risk of being killed by dragging.

And then a few days later I came across a Scuttlebutt article titled, “Nearly half die when falling overboard”, with statistics from the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch supporting the title.

At first I was going to link to the latest piece in a tip with a scary title like “Why We Clip On” or some such.

But that felt kinda wrong so close to the first tip—when does informing turn into scaremongering?

So I decided, instead, to just remind us all that offshore sailing, at least when done with common sense and basic seamanship, is pretty safe.

Sure, people die by falling overboard. But people also die by their furniture falling on them at home.

So what’s the most dangerous thing most cruisers do? My guess is getting into an automobile…that is, unless they are wingsuit BASE jumpers, too.

Oh yes, here’s a link to the Scuttlebutt article, worth reading…at least as long as we keep things in perspective.

And if you are wondering about the photo, that’s Phyllis with our good friends and experienced offshore voyagers Wilson and Thelma, taken in Quebec during our drive of the Trans-Labrador Highway in 2019.


Sidedeck Jacklines Worse Than Nothing?

Yours truly demonstrating where we end up—without the convenient dinghy to keep me out of the cold water (what a wuss)—if we fall in while attached to a sidedeck jackline by a standard-length tether.

According to Practical Boat Owner (PBO), at 6 knots we only have minutes to live in this situation.

We at AAC have long argued that sidedeck jacklines (jackstays) are not safe because of drag risk.

But PBO are taking that up a level by suggesting, based on some very sobering testing as well as even more sobering analysis of sailors falling overboard and being dragged by their tethers, that it might even be safer to not be clipped on at all than to use a standard-length tether clipped to a sidedeck jackline.

We agree with the problem they identify, but feel we have a better and well-tested solution that reduces drag risk to near zero while still staying tethered.

Read the Practical Boat Owner article, highly recommended.


When Did Your Inflatable Lifejacket Last Feel The Love?

I have to confess that unpacking, test inflating (24 hours), and repacking lifejackets is one of my least favourite chores—getting them back together all nice and smooth with no lumps is just one of the many tasks I’m not naturally gifted at.

But even so I just did all five of ours—two Spinlock Deckvest 6D and one 5D for the J/109; and two Deckvest LITE we wear when rowing our turbocharged Whitehall.

We go through this process once a year, at the beginning of the sailing season. Here’s a good instructional video for the 6D.

One piece of good news, one of the many improvements Spinlock have made to the new Deckvest 6D is that it’s easier to repack neatly than the older 5D—I will be writing more about the 6D in a future full article.

Further Reading

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Mental Liquidity

I have quoted Morgan Housel, one of the smartest people in investing as well as one of the best writers, before.

His thoughts about investing often make sense for life, and offshore voyaging.

Here’s Morgan again:

A question I love to ask people is, “What have you changed your mind about in the last decade?” I use “decade” because it pushes you into thinking about big things, not who you think will win the Super Bowl.

I am always so suspicious of people who say, “nothing.” They act like it’s a sign of intelligence – that their beliefs are so accurate that they couldn’t possibly need to change. But I think it’s the surest sign of ignorance and stubbornness.

Morgan Housal, read the whole article

I struggle with staying open and flexible every day, but at least I can answer Morgan’s question in the positive:

That’s all that comes to mind right now, at least around sailing. Maybe I need to work harder at this!

What about you? Tell us what you have changed your mind about in the last 10 years, in a comment.


Person Overboard Lessons Learned

Here’s an interesting article about a triple person overboard emergency from the point of view of the crew of the rescuing boat.

I learned from all the lessons shared, but the two that really jumped out at me were:

  • If we have a POB, be very careful and methodical while responding, lest we go overboard ourselves. In this case three people ended up in the water, but two of them fell in when trying to recover the first POB.
  • On a sailboat, don’t mess with those block and tackles that are often sold with a LifeSling, use a halyard.
    • Phyllis and I carried one of these tackles for years, but some years ago decided that it was a distraction and not useful.
    • I’m not even sure these tackles are useful on a motorboat. After all, what are you going to hook it to? And what about a winch? Three-to-one is not going to cut it. Better a hoist.

Anyway, thankfully it ended well.

Thanks to my friend Wilson for the heads-up.


The Cockpit Is NOT As Safe As It Feels

It’s well worth reading the excellent report from US Sailing on the tragic person overboard (POB) death in the 2022 Bermuda race.

Lots of good analysis and some great recommendations.

That said, the biggest takeaway for me is that the cockpit of a sailboat at sea can provide an illusory sense of safety.

The fact is that even with:

…the wind in the low to mid 20s, with some higher gusts…

US Sailing Report

a wave can near-broach the boat and wash a person right out and over the lifelines, as happened in this case.

…this wave washed Colin over the top of the leeward lifelines and into the water…

US Sailing Report

Phyllis and I have always tethered in the cockpit, even in much more benign conditions than that.

In fact, our rule is to be tethered, even in the cockpit, any time we are sailing in swell, which is pretty much any time out of sheltered waters.

Reading this report was a good reminder for us to stick with that policy.

Much more on POB prevention.


Spinlock 6D—One Size Does Fit All

Our friend Margaret, who is of the petite persuasion, wearing the Spinlock 6D we are testing here at AAC.

One of our concerns with the new model was that with only one size, instead of three as the 5D we have used for years was available in, was that fitting a smaller person might be a problem, particularly since we think that it’s vital that the chest strap be snug.

Turns out we need not have worried. Thanks, Margaret, and Spinlock for providing the jacket free for evaluation.

We will be publishing a full report once we have had more experience with the 6D, but so far we are liking it a lot.


Slippery Deck Shoe Fix

My Gill deck shoes were completely losing their grip. We are talking scary-slippery, to the point I nearly went on my ass, and overboard was a real possibility.

We have seen this before. Seems like whatever material deck shoe soles are being made of these days, it develops a hard yellowy layer way before the shoe is worn out—shoe on right.

We have tried sanding before, but with not a lot of success, so this time, in desperation, I took a grinder with an 80-grade disk to them—shoe on left.

That fixed it, as grippy as new.

Keep at it until the yellow is gone and wear a respirator, I can’t imagine the dust is good for us.


Safer Transom Ladder

Our new-to-us J/109 has a robust transom swim ladder that could definitely enable someone who fell overboard get back into the boat, at least in smooth water.

But check out the photo above: There’s no way for someone in the water, particularly wearing a lifejacket, to deploy the ladder unassisted. The angle is just wrong for that.

So I made the modification in the photo below. Works a treat.

I will be writing more over the next year about changes we are making to the boat to reduce person overboard risk, in our Online Book on the subject.