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Securing 'down-below' lockers for heavy weather conditions

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What is the issue?
Tests have revealed that almost any yacht can capsize when hit beam-on by a breaking wave taller than 55% of the vessel’s length overall. It is believed that some "beamier" modern production boats can be capsized by a breaking wave of as little as 40% LOA. If a yacht enduing heavy-weather conditions is subject to a knock-down, or worse a full 360° roll, chaos will reign below decks if the internal lockers spill their contents into the cabin.

Why address this?
The heavy items of the lockers cascading into the cabin create a major danger for below decks crew. Many sailors have been very seriously injured by lockers spilling their contents. A complete roll will also result in a massive water ingress where the bilge pumps will be further impaired by the detritus.

How to address this?
A seagoing vessel, and particularly an ocean-going one, should have its equipment secured in such a fashion that it remains firmly in place during normal seagoing situations and continue to stay put should the vessel receive a knockdown or be rolled through 360°. If this is not the case advance provisions should be made so that the nothing more threatening than a settee berth cushion will have to be dealt with should the worst happen.


Locker fastening system
Image: Tony Gibson

One of the primary areas to secure are all the under-seat stowage lockers as they have a vast array of contents. The fastening system, illustrated above and below, will keep almost anything at bay. Vertical lockers can also use the same mechanism, or alternatively a simple turn catch of teak or brass that operates independently of gravity and which is strong enough to take a surge load.

Locker Fastening System
Image: Tony Gibson

This system is superior to the positive latch systems where a finger is inserted through the locker doors to release a spring-loaded catch from the inside. These type fittings can create a situation where a finger may be broken - imagine being in the process of unlocking when a rogue wave lurches the boat violently so as to pivot your body weight upon the trapped finger.
Please note

If you decide to use these catches be aware of the danger and use only marine grade catches, latches and locks. Springs rust and break and many brass hinges have pins of steel that rust and seize in domestic fittings.

Locker Fastening System
Image: Tony Gibson


With the lockers secured the other primary areas to focus below decks are as follows:

  • • Batteries: Batteries are the most dangerous objects below decks during a capsize. The weight of a heavy engine-start or a large domestic battery flying through the air and the impact received to bring that amount of concentrated mass to an almost immediate stop is unthinkable. Fortunately, this danger has typically already been catered for by plates, battery straps or webbing and their storage places are usually accessible so that their security may be easily examined. This has to be checked and given the weight of batteries, it is essential that the existing fittings are confirmed to be sufficiently strong to hold them in place. If there is any doubt it may be prudent to fibreglass in some additional tabs to the hull or bulkhead mounts as fixing points.

  • • Tools: Heavy tools can turn into ‘lethal missiles’ if they are not contained. It is best to break toolkits down into smaller packs of related tools so there is not one big dangerous toolbox to restrain. Then keep the packs of tools in well-secured lockers.

  • • Crockery: Crockery, typically stored in T-slots that are not gravity-proof, is also vulnerable. A low-cost safety solution to hold these in place is safety netting with fixed holding loops that may be deployed during heavy weather sailing. Netting systems may also be used as an additional means of holding books in place on their shelves.

  • • Chart table: Home to vital charts, as the electronics may not survive the roll, dividers and all sorts, the chart table has to stay shut. Each table is different but they can be typically secured by a latch or sliding bolt.

  • • Chart table: Home to vital charts, as the electronics may not survive the roll, dividers and all sorts the chart table has to stay shut. Each table is different but they can be typically secured by a latch or sliding bolt.

  • • Tankage: Water and fuel tanks tend to be laminated into place but if not they must be confirmed to be secure. If they are not secured use webbing, such as the material used for car seat belts, rigging wire and turnbuckles (rigging screws) or wooden braces wedged and through-bolted to fasten them down along with additional fibreglass.

  • • Cabin sole: The cabin sole boards should be screwed down with countersunk holes in each board. It is not an elegant nor a particularly convenient way to secure the boards but they rarely need to be lifted and a turn of a pair of screws, when needed, is not overly taxing.

  • The galley stove: The stove should be capable of being locked securely in the non-gimballed position during heavy weather conditions. It should have a crash bar Experience to prevent crew from being thrown against it.


Areas to focus on above decks are:

  • • External Lockers: Place a shackle or a padlock in the cockpit locker hasps. Locker lids can fall open in a rollover situation and be torn away from their hinges. 20% of the 46 skippers caught up in the 'Fastnet 79' (link to download a zipped PDF of the special incident report External link). During the disaster at least 18 boats were rolled through a full 360°, there were approximately 170 incidents of boats being knocked down until their masts hit the water and the lives of 15 sailors were lost. It was reported that the cockpit lockers were ‘a significant water entry point’.

  • • Anchor and chain: Tied off the anchor to the bow roller and lock the hasp over the chain locker or secured a strop over to contain the chain.

If the above recommendations are followed and the crew make it a habit to always bolt the lockers shut and verifying they are secure when in heavy weather sailing, recovery from a rollover should be vastly reduced. The amount of flooding will be extremely alarming but with bilges free of detritus and the vessel righting itself largely intact you will be better able to deal with the situation.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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