Skippers Safety Briefing – What Are the Essential Topics to Cover?
As skipper of the vessel it is your ultimate responsibility to ensure the safety of the crew. Irrespective of the crew’s experience, ability and familiarity of the boat it is always best practice to deliver a Skippers Safety Briefing at the start of a day out or a longer passage or voyage. As well as briefing the crew on the intended passage plan and contingency plans doe safe port locations along the way, it is imperative that basic safety and seamanship is covered in the brief.
Health and Well-being
A Skippers Safety Briefing should start with the crew themselves. Crew should be asked to notify the Skipper, privately if preferred, of any medical conditions and any prescribed medications. There is no need to exclude a crew member presenting with a medical condition from the vessel. However, care must be taken to ensure certain conditions such as Angina, Asthma, Diabetes, Epilepsy, Heart Conditions and giddy spells are well managed and the appropriate medications are on board.
There is no such thing as bad weather only inappropriate clothing! Weather conditions can change quickly so ensure that crew have warm, preferably multi layered clothing options. Comfortable deck shoes and/or boating wellies, as well as wet weather jackets and salopettes. The effects of the sun are accentuated on the water so crew should be encouraged to wear sun screen in good weather as well as hats and sun shades.
Crew members should be fitted with a Life Jacket and shown the inflation mechanism of the specific type worn. Crew members should be encouraged to wear their Life Jackets at all times once cast off. Sailing experience and swim ability are no substitute for a Life Jacket. The RNLI message is clear about this: Useless Unless Worn! http://completeguide.rnli.org/lifejackets.html
Crew should be encouraged to wear harnesses, lifelines and strops at all times. They should be mandatory on night passages, during limited visibility, whilst being sea sick, when limited crew are on board, when on deck alone and when sea states and weather conditions dictate. Crew should be shown clearly where on deck and how to clip on safely.
Man Over Board procedures should be implemented as quickly and calmly as possibly, as life is most likely in danger in Northern European waters. In the Skippers Safety Briefing crew should be fully briefed in the procedure, ensuring that more than role can be carried out by each person.
- Stop the vessel immediately
- Push the MOB button on the GPS to lock position
- Send a distress call via VHF and DSC button if radio is equipped with this function.
- Deploy Horseshoes and Danbouys
- One crew member should point and keep visual contact of the casualty at all times
Thermal Protective Aids
Simple. Location and use of Thermal Protective Aids is imperative at sea. Body temperature can drop rapidly in the marine environment. A simple but very effective life saver at sea.
In the Skippers Safety Briefing it is wise to ensure all crew members are familiar with the VHF Radio and its basic functions. The use of the DSC button and its ability to automatically send a distress call, and also the procedures for a May Day voice message to be relayed. A May Day Procedure Card should be displayed clearly by the VHF with vessels details including call sign and MMSI number.
As well as knowing where the MOB button is located, crew should be able to read GPS position and clearly write this in the log.
The location of the Liferaft is paramount information delivered in a Skipper Safety Briefing. The Liferaft should be stowed in a position where it is ready for immediate launching and never stowed below deck or beneath other equipment. Crew should be familiar with how the Liferaft works, how it inflates and they should know what survival equipment is inside it. It is also good practice to outline circumstances when the Liferaft becomes a viable option and how to enter the life raft safely. It is also important to highlight the location and advantages of the Grab Bag, where it is located and what it contains.
Flares & EPIRBs
Flares should be kept in accessible, air tight high-vis containers and regularly checked for corrosion and Use by Dates. Crew should be aware of the differences in flare type, firing mechanisms, flame colour and suitability for day or night deployment. Remember that all flares are pyrotechnics and can be extremely dangerous if handled incorrectly.
If the vessel or life jackets are fitted with EPIRBS (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) the crew should be instructed how to activate the devices. It is very important to stress the need to contact the Coast Guard immediately for deactivation procedures, if an EPIRB is accidentally activated.
First Aid Kit
Simple. Location and contents of kit. Identify if a crew member has had any formal first aid training. They can be the dedicated first aid provider, as long as they are not the casualty.
Gas is the most dangerous thing we carry on board. It is heavier than air and can accumulate in the bilges and is highly explosive. Have a Gas Safety Routine and ensure all crew members are well versed to switch off the gas bottle when not in use, know where the gas isolation valve is located. A good idea is to run the bilge pump to expel any spilled gas.
Fire on board is the greatest fear, as boats burn easily and rapidly. More boats are lost to fire than any other cause. Prevention is better than cure, so have some ground rules for the main fire hazards; never leave the cooker unattended, and keep flammable objects away from the galley that could fall and ignite when cooking. Keep fuel cans to a minimum and ensure that they are kept in ventilated lockers, never down below! Keep an eye on the temperature gauge when under power.
The crew should also be aware of the location, types and use of fire extinguishers and fire blankets. Fire is the one instance that abandoning ship to life raft is considered with immediate effect.
How to Start and Stop the Engine
In emergency situations it might be essential to either start or stop the engine. Ensure crew are confident and capable of carrying out this simple task. An often forgotten topic in the Skippers Safety Briefing.
Point out hazards relevant to a sailing vessel such as the boom, tripping and slipping hazards such as sheets and cleats. Winches and hatches. Everything has a place, and must be returned after use.
When motoring at speed any movement around the vessel is dangerous.
The RYA Navigational & Theory courses give a person the fundamental skills and knowledge to be be a competent skipper, whether for the day or out on the ocean. People get more from their boating experiences when the Skipper is confident and capable and the crew have been fully briefed on safety. Find out more about RYA Navigation courses at http://www.skipperlive.com/