It can’t happen to me

THE number of incidents which our lifeboats are called on to assist casualties is on the increase every year. These calls vary from people cut off by the tide, swimmers in difficulties, small craft in distress, to people falling over the cliffs. ‘It can’t happen to me’ is an all too familiar phrase, but it can, and quite often does happen even to the most experienced sailor.

Here are a few points to help you from becoming a coastguard statistic: Many sailors who are used to sailing inland are completely unaware of the dangers of the sea, tides, currents, wind shifts, etc. When sailing on unfamiliar water always obtain and use the advice of the local coastguard or fishermen, they will advise you of local dangers, strong tides, rocks and adverse weather conditions which may be expected. Obtain a weather forecast, a placid summer sea can rapidly turn into nightmare for the unprepared.

Equipment:

Always wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid. In the case of a non-swimmer, a lifejacket which will roll you onto your back and float you with your head clear of the water. This is important to a non-swimmer who is suddenly deposited into the sea. As they can and usually do panic, if they are wearing a buoyancy aid, it is possible in this panic to end up in the face down position with disastrous results. Dress appropriately, even on a hot summer’s day ashore, it is usually much colder at sea. A windproof anorak and trousers with a warm pullover underneath are the minimum requirements. Early or late season, a wet suit is essential. It doesn’t take long to suffer from exposure when tired, if you happen to capsize. Always carry an anchor of adequate weight in an easily accessible place, it’s no use having one stowed where you can’t get at it when it’s most needed. The warp should be approximately three times the depth of water you’re sailing in. Carry a compass, and learn how to use it. It may not seem important, but if you are suddenly engulfed by thick fog you would need it to return home. Flares, a very important item. Carry at least one, preferably three, orange smoke flares for daylight use and the same quantity of red flares for night use. (“But I won’t be out at night.”) It often happens that one gets becalmed, your outboard breaks down, or through gear failure, (a broken rudder pintle) you are unable to make the shore, it gets dark before you are found. It makes life a lot easier for your searchers if they can pinpoint your position when you let a flare off. It often happens that a lifeboat has been searching all night for a lost dinghy, when found the casualty says “You nearly ran me down four or five hours ago, didn’t you see me?” If they had been able to let a flare off it would have saved a lot of time and effort for all concerned.

When going out for a day’s sail when you are not in organised racing or when there isn’t a safety boat present, obtain your local knowledge, a current weather forecast, tell someone where you are going and stick to your plans. Tell them when you expect to return, dress appropriately. Should you be unfortunate, try to remember the following points.

If you become becalmed or break down and you can’t propel the boat home, anchor to stop drifting, try to summon help from passing craft, wave arms, etc., if this fails and you are in immediate danger, or if darkness is falling, use your flares.

If you capsize and are unable to right your boat, stay with the boat. Do not attempt to swim ashore, even if you are a strong swimmer. It’s always easier to find a boat and its crew than a lone person in the water. Drop your anchor to stop drifting, try to attract attention. If necessary, use your flares. Don’t try to swim about. Keep your clothes on. They act as a wet suit and restrict the flow of cold water round your body and insulate you. Not only will you save valuable energy by staying still, but you will stay warmer.

Should it become foggy, obtain bearings of the coast and immediately start for home before it becomes too thick for you to see the coast. Should you think you are lost, anchor and wait. Use your whistle on your lifejacket to warn other craft of your position.

If you are not a competent sailor, don’t venture out on your own. Obtain the services of a qualified sailing instructor.

Let’s hope that this season ‘it doesn’t happen to you,’ but even if it doesn’t, please remember to give generously to the R.N.L.I. The crews are volunteers and the whole service is run entirely by voluntary contributions.

M. R. Coates,
Senior Helmsman and Operational
Swimmer, Whitby Inshore Lifeboat

Editors Note: This article is from Reflections No. 26 October 1976, page 8 & 9. It has been captured by OCR, so typos & errors are possible.

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