sailing boat at sea

Staying safe at sea

With boating becoming increasingly popular as both a means of travel and a fun pastime, it never fails to highlight the potential dangers at sea and, more importantly, how to avoid them altogether. Even though accidents are rare, the likelihood is still there so it’s important to stay safe and aware of your surroundings when out on the water, no matter how experienced you are. 

1. Collisions 

Collision with other vessels is one of the most common dangers when on the water, potentially leading to falls. This can happen at both low and high speeds and can cause high amounts of damage to a boat.  

Typically, these collisions happen at night or when there is poor visibility on the water, but there are ways to prevent this from happening. AIS is a targeting system designed around vessel traffic, navigation and collision avoidance. We recommend having AIS onboard – read our article about AIS and why it’s important.

boat navigation instruments

AIS will pick up targets from a fair distance away, giving you time to change course if required. Remember that your sailing boat or small pleasure vessel will turn a lot faster than a cruise liner or freight ship, so it’s much easier for you to change course and avoid them. Companies like Watchit.ai are taking anti-collision to a new level with some clever technology and Actisense are proud to work with them as an interfacing partner.

Radar is also a great piece of kit to have on board, providing an extra level of safety. AIS is great but only works if the other vessels are equipped with AIS or are powered on. Radar, however, will detect every physical target, giving you a clear image of everything around you.  

2. Equipment failure 

Equipment failure is another issue faced when at sea. Of course, the severity of this varies depending on what has failed. Secondary GPS failure isn’t a major issue, whereas Alternator or Engine Failure is catastrophic. In terms of mechanical issues and prevention, we recommend carrying out regular inspections, changing your oil and filters, and keeping the area clean of water ingress.  

Instrumentation failure can make things more difficult, especially if we are not familiar with the ways to overcome it. For example, if your MFD fails, and you lose your map and location, you still need to navigate home. Whilst technology is great in enhancing safety at sea, it’s important to not rely on it completely. It is recommended to have a backup method such as a map, to ensure that you can navigate your way home.  

If you experience mechanical failure whilst on the water, having some basic understanding of the workings of an engine/motor and alternator is beneficial. Sure, you can’t fix everything out at sea because you won’t have the required tools or parts. It is unlikely to be carrying around a second alternator just on the off chance that the current one fails. However, for issues with starting, power and fuel delivery, being able to diagnose and fix the issue on the fly is great. For the small cost it carries, we’d recommend doing a small course in basic mechanical/engine maintenance. Most of the time, the fix is a simple thing which can be solved pretty quickly, so don’t be so quick to just abandon ship if you start having engine issues

boat devices

However, if the vessel is completely stranded and there’s no way of getting the boat moving again, make contact with your local coastguard to ensure they can keep you and others safe on the water whilst they come out to recover you.  

3. Vessel fires and capsizing 

A much less likely scenario, although still possible, is the situation of the boat sinking, capsizing or catching fire. Whilst these are all very rare, they can be fatal, so it is important to know the risks and how to handle a potentially life-threatening emergency. In this scenario, having a VHF radio on board is critical. Having the ability to send out a mayday alert on Channel 16 to the coastguard, especially when combined with AIS info and a GPS fix, can drastically shorten the response time.  

Alongside this, ensure that the vessel is equipped with all necessary safety equipment such as life jackets, torches, whistles and fire extinguishers. Please don’t cut corners or try to save money with potentially lifesaving equipment.  

To help minimise risk, it’s important to have your boat’s electrical systems installed by a professional and tested regularly, and never ignore the warning signs of scorch marks, no matter how minimal.  

Set sail safely 

It’s important to reiterate the potential dangers at sea and how to navigate them efficiently in order to keep yourself and others safe.