One could say that improving safety should be the goal for every season — constant improvement should be built-in to ones routines. However, I think that even experienced (and I do not consider myself as one) sailors will always find something that can be improved and therefore, I believe, that paying some extra attention to safety issues this year will do no harm. Thus, I encourage You to do the same!
Safety is not an ON/OFF-situation. It is based on a chain of actions, and it is the weakest link which determines your safety level. What we will do is to start by critically examining our skills, processes and equipment in trying to locate the weak links in the chain.
In 2011, before casting-off for a long summer cruise, a lot of new safety gear was bought for Dolphin Dance. These included for example a liferaft, a rescue sling, a handheld VHF, a grab bag, an extra fire extinguisher and some extra distress flares and rockets. However, the last weeks before the journey were extremely busy, so there was not enough time to go through every new item with a sufficient care and attention. It may give a false sense of security, if you have all this gear onboard, but they are stored somewhere in the back of the locker. Everyone onboard should know their location and be able to use the most important items by heart!
In the spring we will go through every safety item that we have and at the same time, we will check their condition/expediency dates and re-think their placement. Also it is very important for everyone (including guests) onboard to know how to use the safety equipment and know where everything is located.
Let's take the liferaft as an example. Does everyone onboard know how to launch the liferaft? Secondly, should the liferaft be mounted on the deck or on the locker? Reaching the liferaft from its deck mount is often pretty straight-forward, but there have been many cases where liferafts have been ripped from their deck mountings in a storm. So in this sense, storing the liferaft in a cockpit locker would be a safer solution. However, lockers of cruising boats are often filled with all kinds of stuff, so one needs to consider if the liferaft can be easily reached and found in case of an emergency when the boat is on a roller coaster ride? That includes a situation when the skipper is incapacitated.
Rehearsal is a vital part of improving and maintaining safety onboard. Local boating clubs and SAR-associations often arrange education and possibility to practice emergency situations in a controlled environment. For example the Finnish SAR-association arranges distress flare and rocket testing days this spring.
Naturally, safety onboard is not only about the equipment, but about the general seamanship and experience of the skipper and the crew. Much has already been written about the seamanship by many experienced sailors. What we are planning to do is to critically examine our procedures. I think that in terms of safety, there would be much to learn from the airline industry. The limitations of human cognitive capabilities are there well recognized and therefore basically all the procedures are based on various checklists. Especially in an abnormal situation, one tends to become too occupied with the problem in hand, which may lead to more serious situation, than the problem was initially.
One thing that I would like to improve particularly is an overall preparation. And I do not just mean preparing for a longer crossing or for a coming rough weather. But merely trying to make thorough preparation an every day routine. For example, this grounding could have been avoided and this situation would have been handled better with a good preparation. Last summer, I heard a good advice from a fellow sailor in Hölick:
"One should always prepare for the storm."I think that it is a good advice which we try to keep in mind in the future.
It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on how to improve every day safety onboard?