Safety on Board

The primary responsibility of every skipper and crew is to ensure the safety of everyone on board. This linear hierarchy can make independent minded types (like myself)  😉 chafe. However, there are times when the skipper simply must be obeyed. There is no time for discussion, suggesting alternatives, etc. when the wind suddenly shifts or the skipper has to change course because of boat traffic or some unexpected debris in the water. It took me years to get over myself about this, and sometimes…still!

Experience with guests on board who may or may not sail has shown us that not everyone will comply with our requirement to wear a life vest or Personal Flotation device (PFD) on deck. Usually we are met with the phrase “I’m a good swimmer” or “I can swim.” Okay so maybe you can swim in a pool or in warm lakes or the Caribbean.

In the Salish Sea, the water averages 49-56 degrees from Winter to Summer. (Don’t believe me? Check out the NOAA web site charting water temperatures from Seattle to the Pacific coast: ) There are places that warm up on the surface in the Summer months but the warmer water is only a foot deep. It’s not enough to be able to swim. I have only this to say: I am a very strong swimmer who competed in AAU in middle school and was Red Cross certified to become a lifeguard at 15. I wear a PFD or life vest on deck, always.

The people who drown in the Salish Sea do not drown because they cannot swim. They drown because of hypothermia. The US Coast Guard videos are very convincing. They teach that a young able-bodied person who swims will lose feeling in his/her limbs within 10 minutes. You might be able to float and await rescue if you wear a PFD. Enough said?

Because accidents happen and sometimes you may be hours away from medical care, I recommend the Red Cross First Aid and CPR training. I started my training as a teenager, and when I had my daughters I took it again as Infant/Child First Aid (and CPR). It proved invaluable, if only giving me the confidence to judge whether or not an injury required an emergency room visit 😉

There is a special class in water safety:

US Coast Guard Safety Classes:

Boating rules and Regs: Washington State law requires all boaters who are operating their vessels to be certified by the Boat Washington Course. This course is fairly comprehensive, though not as comprehensive as the US Coast Guard classes. It is a good starting place and you will be issued a card when you pass the test, which costs $29.50. If your birthdate is prior to 1955 you are not required to have the card, but everyone born during 1955 and after is required to pass the test in order to operate a vehicle on the water. Canoes, kayaks, and other human powered water vessels are exempt from this requirement but not from the requirement to wear a life vest or PFD.

Contour maps showing the water temperatures around the world are provided on this National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) site: