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6 things every sailor should know how to do
« : 11.09.2018, 01:22:34 »

Don’t head out to sea without knowing what to do when emergencies—both small and large—arise

1 How  your life jacket works

Inflatable life jackets are the most common choice for offshore sailors, but because there’s a bit more to them than a traditional foam life jacket, it’s important to know how they work and how to maintain them.

Inflatable life jackets work by an inflation system triggering a spring that punctures a CO2 cartridge. These systems are activated either by a capsule that dissolves when wet, allowing the spring to trigger, or by water pressure. Spinlock’s Hammar inflation system, for instance, will not inflate until the cylinder cap is about 4 inches below the water. The advantage of this system is that jackets won’t accidentally inflate because of rain or spray, but the disadvantage is that bouyant clothing can delay inflation. Sensor inflators are usually designed to only inflate when water flows upward into the cap, but these are known to accidentally inflate.

Most offshore inflatable life jackets also have the ability to switch to a manual-inflation-only setting. This typically requires removing the firing cylinder, rendering the auto-inflate function useless. If a life jacket has been set to manual inflation, it will inflate only when the handle or pull tab is firmly pulled. Life jackets that have been set to manual only should be clearly marked.

It’s important to make sure a life jacket fits properly, first by purchasing the correct size for the wearer (although most fit quite a wide range of people), and secondly by fine-tuning the fit. The waist strap (which usually fits around the rib cage) should be snug but still allow for movement. Other aspects of the fit will vary depending on the model, so read the life jacket’s manual and look for online fit videos to make sure it is adjusted properly. The fit will also need to be adjusted differently depending on what is worn underneath it.

Many life jacket models come with extra safety gear: integrated harnesses, leg straps, sprayhoods, lights, whistles and tether cutters. Wearers should locate all of these features and familiarize themselves with how they work. All inflatable life jackets, no matter what color they are on the outside, inflate to a high-visibility color.

Once a life jacket has been properly fitted and all of the extra equipment has been reviewed, spend an adequate amount of time reviewing how it inflates, as this is, after all, the most important feature. Know where the manual inflation pull handle or tab is because if the jacket does not inflate, it will be up to the wearer to inflate it. You should also locate the inflation tubes, which can be used to add air to the jacket as needed or used to fully inflate if the CO2 cartridge fails.

And of course, it’s important to maintain life jackets. Salt and dirt should be removed with a damp sponge and the jacket should be thoroughly dried after wearing. Life jackets should be inspected annually and CO2 cartridges and arming mechanisms need to be replaced or reset anytime the life jacket is inflated. Manufacturers offer detailed information on how to re-arm life jackets, both in written instructions and videos.

If you are planning to re-arm your life jacket anyway, an excellent exercise is to jump into a swimming pool with it on to get a real feel for how the jacket functions. You may feel it is worth the cost of a re-arming kit (usually about $50) to practice using a life jacket.

2 How to fire a flare

The most important part of firing a flare is to know when to do it. You want to maximize the chances of it being seen, so wait until you see a boat or plane before firing.

When you do see someone who may be able to help, it is recommended that you fire two aerial flares, one right after each other. The idea is that the first flare will catch their attention and the second flare will help them confirm the sighting and direction of the signal, according to Orion Signals.

Parachute flares burn for 25 to 30 seconds and do not need to be fired in pairs.

Once you have caught the attention of a would-be rescuer, do whatever you can to continue signaling. This includes using a flashlight or mirror or waving clothing. Orion recommends that sailors have enough handheld flares onboard for 12 minutes of burn time. Use these flares to help rescuers pinpoint your position as they home in on your boat.

A few other tips will help maximize the effectiveness of flares:

1. Stay with the boat if at all possible. A boat is much easier to find than a person in the water or a life raft.

2. Read the instructions on flare operation before you need them. You may waste critical time figuring out how to use a flare and miss a prime opportunity to use it.

3. Remember that search and rescue missions often use grid patterns, which means the same aircraft may fly over multiple times. If you miss your first opportunity to signal to them, wait to see if they pass again rather than firing a flare after they’ve passed and are unlikely to see it.

4. Carry more flares than you think you will need.

3 How to reef a mainsail

When it comes to reefing, the rule is to do it before you need to. It’s a good plan because reefing becomes infinitely more complicated if the boat is heeled way over and the wind is whistling so loudly you can’t hear your crewmates. The process of reefing, however, is the same no matter when you do it.

Start by easing off the outhaul and the vang, then drop the main halyard down to slightly lower than the level of the reef you intend to put in. Get the new tack set in whatever manner your boat is set up for, then carefully grind the halyard up to get the right amount of luff tension. Then tighten the reef line at the clew so that both corners of the sail are sufficiently taut and the foot is stretched out.

Roll the reefed portion of the sail into itself and tie sail ties through the grommets. Boats with fixed-foot mainsails will have to devise another strategy to control the lower part of the sail. Some sailors use long bungee cords stretched along the boom to hold the sail down.

4 How to rescue a man overboard

Most sailors have read and practiced man overboard procedures dozens of times but guidelines for retrieving a person from the water always bear repeating. The following procedure is taught to thousands of new and experiences sailors through American Sailing Association schools every year. It is also outlined in many ASA manuals that may be purchased outside of its courses.

The first response when a person falls overboard is Y, P, T, S, C (yell, point, throw, set, call):

1. Whoever sees a person fall overboard yells, “Man overboard,” and continually points at the person.

2. As soon as possible, someone throws anything handy that floats to the person overboard or launches the man-overboard module if the boat is equipped with one. This not only may help the person in the water stay afloat but also clearly marks the area near where the victim fell overboard.

3. A crewmember who does not already have a job sets the man overboard button on the GPS, then calls for help on VHF channel 16.

The skipper must then decide the best way to turn the boat around, bearing in mind the wind and sea conditions and the capability of the crew.  The goal is to sail the boat to a position where you can make your final approach to the person in the water on a close reach. It is better to aim stop to windward and drift downwind to the person rather than end up to leeward of him and drift away.

This can be done using one of several methods:

• Figure Eight: Start at a beam reach, then tack about three boatlengths from the man overboard. Turn the boat through 270 degrees, cross your track and head up to sail toward the man overboard on a close reach.

• Broad Reach-Close Reach: If you were running or broad reaching when the person went overboard, this is a good option. Continue sailing for a few boatlengths on a broad reach, head up, trimming the sails accordingly, then tack. After the tack the boat should be headed almost directly toward the man overboard.

• Quick Stop: In this maneuver, the idea is to stop the boat as close to the man overboard as possible. When sailing close-hauled, immediately turn head to wind as soon as “Man overboard” is called. If you turn past head to wind but do not release the jib sheet, the boat will heave-to and remain almost stationary. When you’re ready, ease the jib sheet and bear away, then jibe around to sail back toward the man overboard on a close reach.

• Recovery under power: An engine can help in recovering a person overboard, but it’s important to make sure that no lines are in the water before starting the engine to avoid fouling the prop and put the engine in neutral as you approach the man overboard. The goal is to position the boat the same way as when you are solely under sail, approaching on a close reach. Stop the boat well before reaching the man overboard and use short bursts in forward gear to make your way closer.

Have a line ready to throw to the man overboard as soon as you are close enough, then use a swim ladder, Lifesling, hoist or just muscle to get him back onboard. You may also want to use a dinghy or bo’sun’s chair if that works.

As with most safety procedures, practice is important. A few trial runs with a life jacket, fender or float will allow you and the crew to practice the different methods so the first time you’re doing it won’t be when it really counts.

Procedures excerpted from ASA sailing manuals.

5 What to do if you fall overboard

In this most serious of personal safety situations, it goes without saying that you must do everything possible to avoid falling overboard. Nothing good happens when you’re no longer on the boat, so be safe and hang on with every fiber of your being if you find yourself headed for the wrong side of the lifelines.

If do you fall overboard, there are several steps that need to be taken in short order to maximize your chances of being picked up. First, take an immediate accounting of the situation. If you fall overboard while attached by a long tether, you will need to quickly make a decision about whether the crew can retrieve you in seconds, otherwise you will need to consider cutting the tether to avoid being dragged underwater.

If you are free from the boat, make sure your life jacket has inflated or manually inflate it if necessary. Any amount of gear will weigh you down in the water, so if you aren’t wearing a life jacket or it is not providing proper buoyancy, consider kicking off sea boots if you can do it without expending too much energy. If you are carrying a personal locator beacon, activate it as soon as you are able. Make sure you’ve registered it properly before use.

If more than one person has fallen overboard, do what you can to find each other. You’ll become a bigger target for searchers and it will allow for a single rescue operation. Link arms with each other, creating a human raft that can increase buoyancy. This method likely contributed to the successful recovery of the Rambler 100 crewmembers who were left floating when the boat lost its keel and capsized in the 2011 Rolex Fastnet Race.

Once the immediate danger is over, your next job is to make yourself as visible as possible. Help the people on the boat find you any way you can using a strobe light, flashlight, whistle or waving your arms. If you carry personal handheld flares, wait until you know someone is looking your direction before setting them off.

If immediate rescue is uncertain, you will have to think about conserving your energy and float face up.

Many of the factors that contribute to a successful man overboard recovery depend on having and using the right safety equipment, but there is one aspect that cannot be purchased or even practiced beforehand: remaining calm. More than anything, it is what Mark Wheeler, who fell overboard during a heavy-air squall in the 2017 Chicago-Mackinac Race, said contributed to his successful recovery. The boat he was racing on, the Farr 400 Meridian X, was sailing at 18 knots in a 50-knot gust when Wheeler slipped through the lifelines during an all-hands call. The boat was nearly two miles away by the time the crew were able to douse the spinnaker and turn around.

Wheeler was in the water for more than 30 minutes and credits a whistle for helping the boat find him in the pitch-black night. “I just wailed on that whistle,” he said.

The whistle may have been what resulted in Wheeler’s rescue, but his ability to remain calm and collected is likely what allowed him to survive until the boat found him.

6 Dealing with heavy weather

Sometimes, no matter how much you plan, heavy weather interrupts an otherwise nice offshore passage. And if you can’t avoid it or outrun it, you’ll have to deal with it. There are three strategies to use in a storm: heaving-to, forereaching and lying ahull. Which method you use depends on the specific circumstances.

Heaving-to works best for full-keel, heavier boats, although it can be done on some modern boats. When heaving-to, backwind the jib and lash the rudder hard over to drive the boat hard into the wind to balance the boat but allow it to make no headway. The boat will have some heel, but will slowly drift downwind. Ideally the boat will lie off the wind about 45 degrees, and you’ll need to trim the mainsail and the rudder to find a comfortable position. You can practice heaving-to in moderate conditions, so there’s no need to wait for a gale to try it out.

Forereaching works on a wider variety of boats, and involves reefing dramatically and jogging off the wind at 45 to 60 degrees, making slow speeds.  The advantage of forereaching is that you have directional control and can make some headway, which is especially important if you are working off a lee shore.  It’s also comforting to be an active participant in dealing with the situation, rather than waiting for the weather to abate. The key to successful forereaching is to aggressively shorten sail—a deep reef in the main and a storm jib at a minimum, but a trysail can work as well. Pick a heading that is about 45 to 60 degrees off the wind and continually trim the sails. Forereaching is not for wimps. The boat and its crew will take a beating, so a sturdy offshore boat is best suited to this method.

Lying ahull is the least attractive option, and only to be used in survival situations. You simply take all the sails down, lash everything down, go below and prepare for a very uncomfortable ride. In large seas, many boats will lie abeam, leaving the boat vulnerable to a capsize. This is truly a last-ditch option.



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