Beginners’ sailing safety:

Sailing carries natural risks which can be taught and avoided by being cautious and aware. For example, a skipper should recommend the crew wear a PDF life-jacket, demonstrate to new crew members how to operate the motor, the boat’s radio, and how to keep a good balance on a boat (one hand should also be on the boat and each). Always imagine if the skipper falls overboard, what will you need to know to get by? Sailboats heel over when sailing, which is why people may be more likely to fall overboard, or to fall and hit part of the boat. Sailing involves moving around the boat, pulling ropes, cranking winches, stowing sails and these activities take place using sails, boom and lines in motion. Working on a boat can bring some unpredictable issues, can damage property and hurt some of the crew. New crew members should be made aware of the potential of a winch danger. To cast off or unload a winch, release the sheet from the self-tailer jaw and hold the coil with your hand flat on the rows or move the sheet in an angle that locks it. Release the sheet when the headsail or jib is starting to flap or back winding and unload the wraps upward from the top of the winch. This will avoid any potential incident of getting your fingers caught in the winch or the ropes.

Falling overboard is the most common sailboat incident, which requires immediate action from the crew and the owner. ‘Man over board’ is a standard procedure to recover a person that falls in the water. For instance, throw the life ring and other floating objects immediately and designate a person to watch the person in the water by pointing at her or him at all times. It takes a team effort to return the boat to someone in the water and assist the person back on board. The crew should control the sails and prepare for a retrieval system, which often involved to use a halyard to bring someone on board while some other crew members will help the person up from the back area of the sailboat.


Main sail open

Downwind position of the mainsail

I have learnt a hard lesson when I went sailing with a couple of friends during a Sunday morning winter race. The skipper was very experienced but his friend was new to the sport. I have been sailing for a couple of years doing some twilight sails. We were both sitting next to each other on the edge of the boat, which was healing. after a while, I saw some of the marina ‘s rocks getting closer to us so I turn around to check with the skipper. I then realized with horror and shock that the skipper was no longer on board. I was scared and did panic. I looked back to the horizon and saw in the far deep end of the sea two very small hands weaving at the boat and then I realized that the skipper went overboard for whatever reason and we didn’t heard any noise during this incident. Always be aware of what to do if you are in this position; Know how to start the motor, turn the boat around and drop the sails to have more control of the boat. If you have the opportunity, it is always good to have a feel for the boat and steer the boat even for only a few minutes.

Be aware of the boom at all times:

Always be aware of the boom height and keep the head low when the boat is manoeuvring. There are far too many sad stories we hear about people getting knock out by a boom. It is every skipper’s duty to remind their crew of the potential danger cause by a boom. Awareness of the danger of the boom is crucial to crew safety but more specifically for beginners! Safety always comes first when sailing.


Sailing safety precautions

Risk associated with the boom

The boom can swing across the boat whenever you jibe (gybe) and it can injure you and even knock you overboard. These have so much force when something goes wrong. Boom preventers or boom break are amazing solutions to stop the boom from moving to the opposite side during an unexpected jibe but unfortunately not every boat are fitted with them. Boom preventers will force the boom to stay on the one side of the boat. Unfortunately, not many boats are fitted with them, which is why crew awareness of the danger a boom can cause is the most important thing.

The boom is a real danger, specifically when you sail downwind, which means that the main is wide open and that when it travel from one side to the other, the force is considerable. So that if the boom is accidentally going from one side to the other (this is referred to as an accidental jibe), it could be very violent and the force of the boom can either hurt a crew member or kick someone overboard.


Another thing to consider and to be very cautious of is the main sheet trajectory, which follows the motion of a boom moving from one side to the other, with the same violence as the boom. Check where the main sheet is positioned on the side it is on and make sure that you are not in the trajectory of the main sheet if it was to move to the opposite side without any warning.


Sailing safety precautions

Be aware of crew placement on board

I remember when I first started sailing, I was in the cockpit and started to relax after a small local race. I decided to sit down in the cockpit area to eat my sandwich. The rest of the crew were starting to relax, making a few jokes and the atmosphere was great. The sun was quite pleasant and the wind was at about 15 knots. Suddenly, I felt that my face was slapped so hard that I find myself on the deck, knock out and bleeding. It felt like something took my face away from me, including my nose which was bleeding non stop. At that stage I didn’t understand what was happening; People rushed around me and checked that I was ok. The panic was so intense that I thought I must be in a very bad state. This was my first experience with an accidental jibe and unfortunately, the main sheet is what slapped me on the face. So the lesson I have learnt here is: The boom is dangerous but the main sheet attached to the boom is as dangerous. The boom will knock your head while the main sheet will slap you so violently that it could flip you all together while the rope tangle you around.


Some people think that boom preventers are ideal, while others tell us it is not the best solution. Properly trained helms person won’t ‘crash jibe’, so it is best to use a preventer run from the boom end, forward to a block or cleat and back to the cockpit. Mid boom so called ‘jibe preventers’ or ‘boom brakes’ could be more properly renamed ‘boom breaks’ due to the stress induced at mid points on the boom.