Safe Coastal Cruising

Going to sea, and visiting remote places is a dream for many boat owners. But it also means that you and your boat need to be prepared to avoid or deal with foreseeable problems, as help may be many hours or even days away. Vessel safety, and safety of the crew are often just two sides of the same coin.

Vessel safety starts with the hardware and systems that are standard in well-built boats – strong anchoring gear (chain rather than rope if anchoring in coral waters), bilge pumps, reliable engines, fuel filtering, quality fire extinguishers, windscreen wipers, navigation lamps, a compass and so on.


All boats should carry a registered 406MHz EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), and these days it makes sense to buy one with an inbuilt GPS so that it broadcasts its own position when activated.

Not only does this avoid the delays and inaccuracies associated with waiting for a polar satellite to determine the EPIRB’s position, but it allows authorities to almost immediately direct any boat to an exact position rather than just specially equipped aircraft or vessels that can home in on the signals.

EPIRBs don’t convey any details about the emergency and should be seen as the last resort in life threatening situations, not as an alternative to having good radio communications.


State regulations specify some safety gear that must be carried, depending on the size of the boat, and where it operates. These cover lifejackets, EPIRBs, fire fighting, pumps, minimum navigation equipment and so on.

More comprehensive equipment lists are specified for various categories of sailing racing yachts, with requirements typically covering such things as liferafts, medical kits and additional flares, are equally applicable to motor cruisers, although again they should probably be seen as minimums.

It is a good idea for at least two adults on board to have current First Aid qualifications, and there is always the need to ensure any important personal medications (and back-up reading glasses if needed!) are carried, plus of course routine personal protections such as hats, sunglasses, sun blocks, and perhaps stinger suits if visiting the tropics.


Having someone fall overboard, especially under way, is an immediately life threatening situation and while power boat crews don’t need to go on deck to manhandle sails, they sometimes do for other reasons.

Routine wearing of an inflatable life jacket, especially by crew on watch at night, is a minimum precaution, and security can be further improved if the jacket incorporates a harness and strong attachment points or even a webbing safety lines are rigged so a crewman going forward for example to re-secure a dinghy on the foredeck at sea can do so in relative safety.

The possibility that a child or watch-keeper may fall overboard unobserved, even in port, can be guarded against by systems such as LifeTag or MOBiLert that alarm immediately someone falls overboard.

Click to enlarge image: