Know your limits. A guide for when you restart sailing

I doubt there are many more desperate to get back on the water than this particular club sailor. I’m lucky that my club is not far away, I sail on a pond where the shore is rarely more a good swim away, so hopefully I’ll be back on the water soon. Which got me thinking about before I launch…

One of the key aspects of sailing for me is the need to take personal responsibility. That includes deciding whether the conditions are too much for us or our boat or our (family member) crew. In these strange times, it also means thinking harder about our personal safety and appraising the risk, not just in sailing, but in getting to and from our boats and then avoiding catching or inadvertently transmitting the pesky virus.

We all have different (often strong) views as to the Covid risks, with some being particularly cautious and others believing we should be easing our way back to some sort of normal life, rather than continued lock-down. I hope we can respect each other’s’ opinions and choices on this rather than set off a further wave of conflict and stress.

So your club committee has made an informed decision to re-start sailing, I therefore propose a few further checks before actually going sailing, checks that we normally tend to be a bit too relaxed about. It seems common sense that we should doing everything we can to minimise the need for any safety boat services. So here are some checks I recommend strongly before going on the water:

  1. Read the weather forecast and satisfy yourself that you, boat and crew can handle the conditions before leaving home
  2. Pack your tools and boat spares – you might need them when you get there
  3. Assess the conditions again when you get to your club. Wind direction and strength can be different to the forecast
  4. Some suggest fitting a masthead float to reduce inversion risk (or mast-in-mud syndrome). I tend more towards thinking that if you think you need a float for these reasons, you should skip going out; sail another day instead
  5. Check the boat over very thoroughly:
  6. Check tanks are dry, all bungs are in, hatch covers on and buoyancy bags inflated
  7. Check standing rigging – ensure wire is not fraying and all split rings/pins and shackles are secure.
  8. Check the tiller extension universal joint for the start of splits in the rubber
  9. Check the corners of each sail, satisfying yourself they are not going to pull off. Ditto spinnaker chute patches
  10. When the boat is rigged, do a further inspection of everything, satisfying yourself all is hunky-dory (particularly look for missing split rings and loose clevis pins)
  11. If any of these checks highlight a problem, fix it, using your tools and spares if needed.
  12. If you cannot fix it, put the boat away and cover back on. Note what you need, order them online and come back another day when you have the bits and can fix the problem.

Before launching also:

When launching, you are going to have to deal with your own trolley, unless you have a family member with you – this may change our ingrained habits of collaborating and helping each other.

Don’t stay out too long, get tired and so start making mistakes, head back under your own steam.

Inevitably, I cannot guarantee this list exhaustive or covers every risk and contingency. Remember, it’s all about taking personal responsibility and applying your own common sense. With a dash of extra prudence thrown in please.

Enjoy your sailing and stay safe.