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Staying secure in the cockpit during heavy weather conditions or solo sailing

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What is the issue?
The greatest danger for a sailor is a man over board situation. Once you fall over board in heavy seas it is very difficult to turn a vessel back and find a lost crew member in any kind of seaway. If you are solo sailing, you are lost in MOB situation unless you are in popular waters and are very lucky.

Why address this?
Man-over-board is a prime way to lose your life at sea. MOB must be prevented at all costs

How to address this?
Use a safety harness with double action locking safety hooks, see figure 1, and clip on when conditions become challenging or on night watch / solo sailing.

Boat owners should provide an easy cockpit clip-on point that is accessible from both the cockpit and below decks. It is critical that crew members coming above decks can first reach out and clip-on securely before coming above decks. Hence the recommended location for a securing ring is around the companionway area. The fixing point should ideally be a heavy duty through-deck fitting. The shock-load of a crew member falling onto the eye can three to ten times their actual body weight.

Jack stays must be laid along the decks to allow crew members to safely work the fore decks. Traditionally these were stainless steel wires permanently laid along the decks. These however have a tendency to roll under foot exacerbating the MOB problem. The modern approach is to use 25mm wide 2000 Kg breaking strain jackstay webbing as presented in figure 2. This may be set in place before making passage and easily removed afterwards to clear decks and prevent UV degradation.

Only use safety harnesses double action locking safety hooks as shown in figure 1. Cheaper harnesses use standard carbine hooks but these are not dependable for the role. A carbine can self open and simply fall off if they happen to wrap around the securing point as presented in figure 3. As a result I feel they are not reliable enough and the extra investment required for double action locking safety hooks is worth it.

In action the safety harness range should be shortened to allow it to reach no further than the guardrails. There should not be enough line to allow the user to fall into the water. Climbing aboard is a challenge at the best of times and as often nearly impossible with a weight of water, certainly so when dragged behind a moving vessel. This would be fatal for a solo sailor. Keep the harness short.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.

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