Boat safety cannot be improvised; it must be planned and organized, including logistically. In this article, sailor Luca Sabiu reveals where to put all safety devices and equipment aboard his boat. Careful placement can make all the difference in emergency situations-even on your cruising boat.
Boat safety is something serious. I will never tire of repeating it. Sailing safety must necessarily be planned, thought out in advance, and then processed while sailing. Only then, when a procedure is put in place, will it become truly effective. The sea is an environment that can be very harsh and does not accept improvisation. Moreover, in the moment of emergency, time always runs fast.
When I talk about boat safety to the students who come aboard my Class 40 Flow, I find that they immediately think of a life raft or a risky denouement. Instead, planning and “method” are precisely to avoid a bad event and decrease the likelihood of entering an emergency.
But what exactly is an emergency aboard a cabin cruiser sailboat and how is it handled? Let us imagine a long line. At one end of this line is a possible event, such as the breaking of a rigging, halyard, or opening a waterway or even a problem with a rudder. At the other end of the line is the emergency. Here, in the middle of this line is all our preparation, our expertise, our method. And when we go boating, our goal is to keep these two leaders as far away as possible.
How to build your own “method”
In this guide I want to reveal how I safely prepare my Class 40 Flow with which I sail over 8,000 miles a year in both the ocean and the Mediterranean. You will discover many solutions that can become valuable insights that you can use on your boat as well, even if it is perhaps a more common cruiser and not a sport boat.
With the understanding that there is no right “method” for everyone. None of us has the “Bible” of safety at sea. There is, however, the “method” more akin to us. With my students I insist a lot on creating their own “method.” This is the formative keystone that makes the Commander increasingly aware and therefore safe.
Boat Safety – Where to put the equipment
Let’s begin to trace the path of the “method.” Imagine we draw a longitudinal line that divides our boat in half. To starboard we will find all the easy things, the simplest solutions. On the left, however, we will find all the equipment, devices, and rescue systems.
We always start from bow to stern below deck and then on deck. These are not political or ideological landmarks. The reference here is simply to the green light and red light that are easy for everyone to identify. So both on deck and below deck, an easy thing will be found on the starboard side, while a difficult maneuver will be found on the port side. It may seem trivial now, but then it will become clearer.
Another focus of the “method” on onboard safety is to place equipment where we actually need it. To give a concrete example, if I need the ballast cones near the sea intakes, that will be exactly where they are located. But let’s take a closer look in detail.
Boat Safety – Below Deck
To illustrate the organization and placement of all safety-related equipment and accessories on board the myClass 40 Flow, we start with the interior of the boat.
On-board pharmacy at your fingertips
On the medical emergency on board, we worked a lot. The experience gained in major ocean races, such as the Mini Transat and the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) have been the test case for getting to the point of composing and knowing how to use a good pharmacy. Have you ever experienced needing a medication and looking for it at night, perhaps soaking wet? Well, it’s definitely not easy. But I think my system makes it much easier.
On board Flow we have of two types of pharmacies. A quick-use one with Band-Aids, disinfectant, dry ice, seasickness tablets, and anti-inflammatories, which are all stowed in a small red watertight bag hanging to the left. The other one, which is the main one, on the other hand, is placed by choice in a strategic spot, namely near my bunk that is accessible from both inside and outside. The reason for this placement is that the pharmacy in case the boat is abandoned will have to come with us.
All drugs are divided by disease and case history. We also have adrenaline, dry ice, and systems to immobilize limbs. Inside the bag is a very clear legend on the use and administration of all medications that are coded with a number and letter, the result of detailed planning to be prepared on the ground.
Fireproof blanket and fire extinguishers at strategic locations
Maximum fire safety, regardless of the quantity, quality, and type of fire extinguishers on board, definitely comes through a fireproof deck.
On board Flow we have two: one is located near the gas stove and the other near the engine compartment. Near the two blankets also we have fire extinguishers.
Ballast cones near each sea inlet
The major cause of sinkings is the sudden opening of a waterway, which often results from a poorly maintained or damaged sea inlet.
It is important to remember that appropriately sized turafalle cones should be tied near each sea socket, which will allow us to take action by reducing water ingress and then complete the job with turafalle paste.
Turafalle paste well in view
In the Atlantic Ocean due to a blow on the transom we had a waterway. A special stick of epoxy sealing paste saved my boat and crew by performing a seal from the inside that held for more than two months.
The catalyst for the dough is the water itself, which you will not lack at that time. This accessory is really indispensable, and you need to know how to use this material, as well as how to hold it in a specific position. On Flow it is placed in the upper left corner, always clearly visible.
Epirb always accessible
In 2007 during a shipwreck and having broken ribs from a fall the placement of the Epirb on my boat made all the difference. Finding myself in the cockpit from this position, I simply reached out and pulled my Epirb from the inside.
If it had been placed elsewhere, I would not have been able to retrieve it easily. The Epirb should therefore be placed in a location that is accessible from both inside and outside the boat. On board Flow obviously we have it on the left. And remember to do the verification test before embarking on any navigation.
Fast food for the hard upwind
Have you ever tried sailing upwind hard for 6, 8, 10 hours or more? Going down to get food can be tiring and sometimes risky.
A special watertight bag should contain basic comfort items, almonds, bars, calorie bombs, dry food. It is thrown into the cockpit and slowly the crew devours it. It should be kept in perfect condition and checked at all times.
Bin “Survie” always on the left
The “Survie,” or survival, bin on my Flow is on the left. This is my job and so I am very rigid, but having a watertight bag on board or, for those who have space, the “Survie” bin is the real difference. On my boats there is no kind of accessory scattered around the boat, but everything is inside the bin.
Inside you will find the portable Vhf, small emergency lights, portable Gps plus battery, a headlamp, signal fires and flares, respectable Vhf antenna, and anything else we might need in an emergency situation
Note: It is important not to confuse the “Survie” bin with the Grab Bag from the life raft; they are two different things, even though they serve the same purpose.
As a matter of weight, we keep this equipment in the middle of the boat. There is a mask, a 5-liter tank, and a dispenser/manometer.
It is rarely used, but I consider this component a great safety. The important thing is to have this equipment in perfect order at all times.
Hardware, tools and work accessories
Aboard a boat we would like to take a whole workshop. Under the guise of “we might need it,” every so often a new tool or accessory pops up that we think might be useful. Obviously on boats like Flow though, this is impossible and also senseless. We have only essential equipment.
I personally have two rigid and sturdy baskets. In the one on the left I keep equipment for harder operations, so hacksaw and blades, motor parts, screwdriver, a few plates already pre-drilled with nuts and bolts ready to have more possibilities to use them. Then again an American pliers, the bag of chosen irons and a few other accessories, plus the floating anchor in order. In the second basket, positioned to starboard, I instead keep light equipment so the bansigo, gas welder, sail repair kit, electronic kit (tester, fuses, fastons, etc.).
The great skippers of the Vendée Globe teach us that many emergencies are solved by working ashore. The equipment I board is the same equipment I sail with in both the Mediterranean and the ocean. For me there is no difference and it is the result of a great deal of planning.
Garmin In Reach Mini Starboard
I have been using this compact satellite communicator for a few years. With global satellite coverage, you can stay connected when cell phones won’t let you.
It also has a very convenient messaging system, so Flow always stays connected and trackable from home with always-on tracking.
Inmarsat satellite phone
Having a satellite phone on board (always charged) is a great security. The ability to interact by phone with a doctor, a rigger, a coastal station in a time of need can make all the difference. The other major advantage of the satellite phone is that it can eventually be carried aboard the raft. On Flow we have an Iridium fixed station, and for that very reason for the laptop I chose a satellite system other than Iridium and precisely Inmarsat.
This is the historic network, as it was the first to provide access to individual telephone connections via satellite thanks to a number of satellites in geostationary orbit. Inmarsat does not have coverage at the Poles but is suitable for my type of ocean navigation. Built-in Gps with the ability to send the location complete the phone’s features. The Inmarsat satellite phone is positioned on the starboard side.
We now come to the safety equipment and components that Flow’s crew finds placed on deck, where they are otherwise stationed most of the time and especially on watch shifts.
Tree and scotch: identify, protect and control
Having a safe boat means being able to make quick checks to be sure that everything is in order. A key and very important component to keep track of is the mast and all its rigging, including the scull.
I usually apply white electrical tape to the rigging’s turnbuckles and ends and make reference marks with permanent marker. This way I can quickly keep track of any small possible movement or variation. I do the same work on the inside on the keel bolts. The latter by the way is one of the many checks on the daily onboard checklist.
Having a problem with a halyard when you are in the middle of the sea is a big bitch. That is why the last few meters of the halyards, and more specifically where they work on the sheaves at the masthead, are covered with a Kevlar over-sock. Such a coating allows the halyard not to wear out, last longer and ensure safe navigation. In addition, the mainsail and foresail halyards, that is, the two terzarol sails, have marks near the stoppers for faster sail reduction.
On a long sailing trip, it is important to check the perfect condition of the socks at the wear points at least once every two days. We cannot afford to lose a halyard to an easily avoidable break if checked in time.
Jack Line, that’s where they go through
Although not mandatory under Italian law, the jack-line is a safety component that runs along the deck of the boat and to which we attach our seat belts. Years ago we used only steel cables to secure ourselves to the boat. Today, metal cables have been replaced by textile webbing of great strength and safety. On board Flow we have three of them, distinct and placed in this way: one on each side on the deckhouse starting from the bow and arriving at the end of the deckhouse passing internally to the walkways. And the other through the cockpit only.
In this way the whole crew is able to be secured to the boat at all times. I would like to point out that jack-lines should not be secured to the stern cleats, as is often seen on many cruising boats, because the risk of falling overboard becomes too great.
Ior auction for man overboard recovery
During my first sailings aboard Flow, I realized that the boat often reached above 15 knots of speed without any particular problems. At one point I turned around I looked at the wake and realized it was time to buy an Ior rod even for sailing outside of regattas where it is always mandatory. With such a fast boat I would have had no other chance to perform a true man overboard recovery.
I keep this component installed on the left. For added security at the bottom of the rod, I also tied two salt-activated strobe bulbs to the free floating top. This made the rod much more visible in the event of a fall during nighttime hours.
White hand fire: available in seconds
About fifteen years ago during a Mini 6.50 solo race while I was on the transom of the Gulf of Genoa for unclear causes a freighter was about to hit a boat in the fleet.
That night I promised myself that I would always keep in the first outside pocket nearest to starboard a white hand fire. This precaution gives me a lot of security because, in case I have to make myself visible, within a few seconds I can activate this means of signaling. Otherwise it would take much longer to go to the survie bin to recover. This attention I place on all the boats I sail on.
Lifebuoy and Rescue Sling
Aft of Flow on the port side are well installed and neatly arranged ring lifebuoy and Rescue Sling lifebuoy for lifting man from the water.
Personally, I find it an equipment to be used secondarily in case of a man overboard fall. As with all the boat safety equipment aboard my Class 40, I tested both repeatedly. This is also my work.
Liferaft and Grab Bag
The phrase I always say is that in an emergency, “on the raft we need to be as little as possible and as best as possible.” For the raft aboard Flow, we opted for an Arimar Ocean device provided by MagellanoStore with separate Grab Bag to save weight and have a small accessory.
I think the advantage of having a Grab Bag is manifold. Meanwhile, the raft is lighter to maneuver and accommodate. But the real big advantage is the ability to insert and add materials and equipment that would be impossible to add in a standard raft except during the time of fabrication. On long crossings I also put my satellite phone in the Grab Bag: that way I make sure I find it later on the raft.
As a Grab Bag I chose an orange inflatable watertight bag. This way I avoid any visibility and buoyancy problems. On board Flow the raft is housed centrally under the aft pulpit, a very solid component. It is also secured to the boat with straps marked with red marks, and beside it I have a line-cutting knife also in red, for an important visual association in the frantic moments of a possible emergency according to the “red cut red” concept. Thus the raft, once opened, will always be secured to the boat.
As you can see on the subject of safety, everything on board Flow is reasoned and planned according to the concrete needs and practical life during navigation. Anticipating emergencies at sea is a great school of training and approach to sailing that comes in handy even on the quietest cruising trips. If you would like to learn more about this topic, the Master Sail school offers safety courses that are also customized and on board your boat. Being safe at sea means enjoying it to the fullest.
*Who is Luca Sabiu
My name is Luca Sabiu, but those who have sailed with me know me as the “commander.” I do a wonderful job: I am involved in Training and Safety at Sea. I have been a Recreational Vessel Commander for about fifteen years, an oceanic professional with tens of thousands of miles under my belt, and a solo sailor in the Mini Class.
Federal Instructor FIV, UISP and since 2020 Tutor for the Italian Sailing Federation, I have created over the years a personal Sailing Coach teaching with a One2One work on the student, centering on the mental approach and stress management on board, let’s say I like to work on the autonomy of the sailor. I am Offshore Trainer for the Caprera Sailing Center aboard my Class 40 Flow which is my “lab boat.” www.lucasabiu.com