KEEP SAFE OUT THERE  - Article by Tim Robertson of the RNLI
I often enjoy sailing my Wanderer independently, sometimes single handed, just getting away from the crowd and immersing myself the challenge of making my own way in a small boat.

While no activity is totally safe, dinghy sailing is relatively non-hazardous, however, the implications of getting it wrong could be catastrophic for you, your crew and the loved ones you leave ashore. The more obstacles you can put in place between the potential for an accident and that accident actually coming to pass the better.

Each of the following safety steps may help break the chain of events that could lead to a happy days sailing ending in tragedy:
  • Does someone ashore know where you are going and when you intend to return? If not then who will raise the alarm and point the rescue services in the right direction should you become overdue? Make sure you call your contact to say you are ashore, or if you are likely to be delayed, to prevent a false alarm with good intent.
  • Do you have up to date weather and tidal information and do you understand how these factors might influence your ability to complete the planned journey safely? Be honest with yourself in weighing up the conditions – can you cope? Not sure – don’t go.
  • Can you de-power the rig, heave to, furl the jib or reef the main while afloat? The right time to reduce sail is as soon as you first think about it – leave it later and it will be harder to do it safely. Frank Dye said that while racers rig for the prevailing conditions and try to survive the gusts, cruisers should rig for the gusts.
  • Do you have alternative means of propulsion that will get you home should you be unable to sail to shore?
  • Do you have a means of calling for help should you need it? (For example: VHF radio, mobile phone in waterproof stowage, pyrotechnics, whistle, sound signal or torch)
  • Is your boat up to it? Have you checked the effectiveness of the buoyancy and the serviceability of the fittings, rigging, sails etc?
  • Are you wearing appropriate clothing for the conditions including a well fitted buoyancy aid or lifejacket with effective crotch straps - to prevent it riding up and obstructing your airway and ability to swim?
  • Can you recover and sail away from a capsize without outside assistance? Seriously consider using masthead buoyancy if sailing independently, to reduce the likelihood of inversion after capsize. Tie a bailer / bucket into the boat so it can’t float away. Practise capsize recovery with your crew to make sure you are confident you can recover the situation, all dinghy sailors must assume they will capsize and plan to manage capsize as a normal part of their sailing experience.
  • What is your plan B? For everything we try to achieve in small boats we should always have an alternative in mind, just in case we find we are unable to achieve our intended aim. For example, where else could I come ashore if my favoured landing site can’t be used for any reason, or, before entering a confined space or embaying myself on a lee shore, what is my escape route that will allow me to ‘go round again’ if I don’t like the way things are panning out.

 Finally, two key points to bear in mind:

1. It is always better to be safe ashore wishing you were at sea, rather than struggling out at sea wishing you were safely ashore.

2. Whatever happens, unless your boat is well alight (!), NEVER abandon your boat in an attempt to swim ashore. The Wanderer is designed to be positively buoyant even if it is structurally damaged. A swamped or inverted hull still provides a safe refuge for the crew, out of the cold water, together in one place and very much easier to spot than a couple of football sized heads drifting around hidden between waves. Swimming ashore is never a good idea, no matter how hopeless it may seem bobbing around on a swamped, broken or inverted boat. Remember the tales of the ’79 Fastnet Race where crews abandoned their boats to liferafts, only to drown, while their ‘doomed’ yachts were found days later still very much afloat.

Keep safe out there.

Tim W1038



1. Life jackets or personal buoyancy aids should be worn when sailing.
2. Masthead buoyancy is recommended. Wanderers, like most other sailing dinghies, may invert after capsize. Mast head buoyancy avoids this and aids righting significantly.
3. Crews should attend any briefing prior to departure to obtain up to date weather forecast, details of the sailing area, and navigational information.
4. Check the seaworthiness of your boat and ensure that it is suitably equipped.
5. Buy adequate marine insurance including third party cover.

Note: The WCOA does not accept any responsibility or liability arising from any accident or other incident during either a cruising or a racing event. Participation is at the sole and absolute discretion of each helm and crew.


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