Safety Essentials Part 3

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SAFETY ESSENTIALS -PART 3 In part 3 (the final) we look at the many and various safety devices that are suitable to have aboard you boat, be it a 4m tinnie or a 30m cruiser. More has been written and spoken about safety than about any other boating aspect. Which is not surprising.

We also write and talk about road safety, yet it doesn’t prevent around many 100s of New Zealanders being killed in road accidents every year. We look at some of the items we can carry aboard to prevent becoming one of those statistics. The number of lives lost through boating accidents is small in relation to the road carnage, but there’s a significant distinction to be made in comparing water to road safety. 

Almost every one of us has to drive or travel daily in some form of road transport to earn a living and survive in society. However, boating involves only two in five of the population and is mainly a recreational activity and as such should be fun. In the last five years on average 18 people per year have drowned while recreational boating in New Zealand Unlike driving, there should never be a need for it to be tiring, tedious, uncomfortable or a necessary evil. And it most certainly should never be dangerous. Now consider that if your car breaks down or the house catches fire, there’s a 90% chance you can walk or run to safety. The only record we have of anyone walking on water was over 2000 years ago! You can’t just call the AA or Fire Brigade and avoid involvement in an incident on the water. 

You can call the Coast Guard, but time may be against you as you may need immediate help. As we said at the outset, boating for most of us is supposed to be fun, a relaxing and enjoyable experience, so in considering what can be done to increase the safety of that experience, we should look not just at those mercifully few dramas in which lives are at risk, but also at the un-recorded thousands of non-fatal accidents that happen every year and which might be avoided. 

Auckland Coast Guard answer hundreds of calls for assistance every year, all of which related in one way or another to matters of safety. A little care and attention would have made the majority of those calls unnecessary. Less dramatically, it’s probable that anyone reading this has suffered at least one painful accident in or around a boat.

It might have been nothing more than a finger torn by a frayed strand of wire rope or a toe stubbed against a bollard. Minor perhaps, but painful when they happen – and there’s no fun in boating when it hurts. Are You Safe? So we suggest a pause here while you ask yourself whether you, your family and your boat are as safe as possible, not just from life-threatening structural defects or equipment deficiencies, but from all those minor and unexpected happenings that spoil the fun of boating.

It is a skipper’s responsibility to ensure that those aboard the boat are safe and the equipment is up to the standard required. Whether it’s just checking on the weather forecast for the day, or making sure there are enough lifejackets for all those aboard the boat, in law it all falls back on the skipper if something goes wrong. Let’s consider that you already have life jackets for everyone aboard the boat, flares, a bilge pump, fire extinguisher, a VHF radio and charts or a GPS plotter with charts that relate to the area you are boating. These are obvious aspects of safety, but it’s surprising how many people do (or neglect to do) things on a boat that seem innocent enough but which carry unnecessary risks of unpleasant injuries.


Exposure to fire and immersion in water are just as life-threatening. If you find yourself in the water for an extended period, you quickly appreciate that if nature had intended the human body to float it would have fitted it with oily feathers and webbed feet. Of all the safety gear, a lifejacket heads the priority list. 

In the last two issues of PPB, we have covered the lifejacket and buoyancy aid question in detail. However, it still needs to be reinforced again. It is mandatory to carry one life jacket for every person aboard the boat and to wear them in Dzadverse sea conditionsdz. While we don’t plan again to go into the myriad of styles and options offered by today’s lifejacket and buoyancy aid manufacturers, suffice to say it is important that whatever brand or model you choose, it should fit snugly. Ill-fitting lifejackets, especially ones that are too big, can be dangerous items of clothing that can cost you or your family their lives. This is especially so with small children who should NEVER wear adult jackets that they can easily fall out of. 

If the boat sinks from under you, the quickest way for the body to become exhausted is by moving around in the water. Any device that allows you to remain afloat without expending energy is the first line of defence against hypothermia: the second is any garment that increases body/head protection, remembering that the head is the main source of heat loss. A wetsuit and hood are a great way of keeping the body temperature up and is now classified as a PFD. It’s worth noting here that even in summer the water temperature around New Zealand’s coastline ranges from 14ºC to 23ºC and the human body normally functions at 37ºC. If the body temperature changes 4ºC either way, problems begin, and even at a water temperature of 20ºC survival time for a swimmer is likely to be less than three hours. At 10ºC paralysis sets in within 15 minutes and death follows when the body temperature drops to 29ºC. 

Generally speaking a fit average adult in water between 15ºC and 20ºC  and  whoseswimming ability is reasonable would be advised to swim for it. In all other cases, a buoyancy aid offers the only real chance of survival. It’s a good idea, too, to carry a few other non-personal flotation devices, e.g. closed cell foam seat squabs and cushions, polyethylene foam fenders. Lives have been saved by the victim swimming to shore or found clinging to an empty fuel tote tank or chilly/isky bin. However, there is now a purpose made device from Life Cell Marine Safety. The Life Cell is available in four different sizes and its purpose is to keep essential safety gear on board in an easily accessible location in case of an emergency. It was created in a way that will keep people together in the water by using attached lanyards. The boxes are brightly coloured, making them easily visible to rescuers. The available sizes are big enough to assist groups of two, four, six, or eight people.


Flares, of course, are another must-have item aboard and can be bought singly or in handy waterproof packs. If youblank are going to stow them away somewhere, make certain everyone aboard knows where they are and that they are readily accessible. Even if the boat is upside down, you should have a good chance of retrieving the flares if you know where to find them. A tip is to attach the waterproof container to a long lanyard, so if it floats away from the boat, then you don’t have to swim after it, a move that may in itself prove fatal. It’s also a good idea to read the instructions when you get them and regularly check the expiry date and condition. Old flares that don’t work are no good to anyone!


Emergency location devices are often an item sadly neglected by trailer boat owners, but they should not be. They are however far more common in boats over 10m. There are many different options available, from EPIRBs with a signal that can be picked up by passing aircraft and will help to pinpoint your position for would-be rescuers, to AIS (Automatic Identification System) and PLBs (Personal Locator Beacon). There are many great products on the market and they start at surprisingly affordable prices. Personal locator beacons are very compact. The McMurdo Smartfind S10 AIS Beacon is an innovative manually activated personal safety device which incorporates both AIS and GPS technology. Smartfind S10 is waterproof to 60m, buoyant and compact. When activated the Smartfind S10 transmits a unique alert signal to the vessel the individual has come from and to all AIS enabled equipment within a typical 4-mile range, signalling that help is required in a man overboard or lost diver situation.

The GME ME’s MT410 is available with or without an integrated GPS option, offer a massive 7-year battery replacement life, and a 7-year warranty. The MT410 also features a high intensity flashing LED and a Non Hazmat battery pack for simple and cost effective transportation. McMurdo FF220 Mini PLB with GPS and 24 hr battery is a compact pocket-size 406 MHz PLB, which weighs just 150g and once activated, the distress beacon will obtain a GPS position, send out a signal for help, and continue to transmit for at least 24 hours. 

Kannads SafeLink SOLO GPS PLB is designed to be carried with you at all times, is waterproof to 10m and easy to activate. This is a PLB that gives you great value for money and a real alternative to distress flares. Compact light and durable, the SafeLink Solo is waterproof to 10m, has a 50-channel integral GPS and a minimum 24-hour continuous operation. An EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) is used to alert search and rescue services in the event of an emergency. It does this by transmitting a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency via satellite and earth stations to the nearest rescue coordination centre. Some EPIRBs also have built-in GPS which enables the rescue services to locate accurately you to +/- 50 metres. 

Some examples are: The McMurdo G5 Auto Float Free EPIRB with GPS is a 406 MHz EPIRB designed to operate with the COSPAS-SARSAT international search and rescue system with the addition of an integral 12 channel GPS receiver. The Auto Float Free Housing meets SOLAS requirements and will automatically deploy the EPIRB when submerged to a depth lower than 2 – 4metres in the sea. The addition of a GPS receiver to the EPIRB ensures that the exact position of a casualty is relayed to the rescue services. This can, in turn, improve the speed of recovery by updating the position of the beacon at regular intervals.

The GME MT400 406 MHz digital EPIRB is a radical new design concept that is not only a significant improvement on existing beacon performance but dramatically slashes the cost of 406 MHz EPIRB ownership. RRP is $Au259/$NZ???. Features include COSPAS-SARSAT worldwide operation, automatically deployed antenna when the unit is removed from the quick-release mounting bracket and a high-intensity solid state strobe. Kannad’s SafeLink EPIRB comes as an ultra compact unit, with built-in high accuracy GPS for enhanced position location as standard. You can choose from two models: one with manual deployment bracket and the other with auto deployment housing that includes a hydrostatic release unit. Features include, integral 20-channel GPS, high brightness LED flashing locator light, 48-hour transmission once activated and 6-year battery life.


The VHF radio is another must-have item, be it a handheld or fixed unit and this can be complemented by a mobile phone, which today provides reasonable coverage in most major boating areas. As saltwater and mobile phones don’t mix, keep your phone in a plastic bag, or better still a specially designed waterproof cover.

There are plenty of brands of VHFs to pick from and they vary in price, depending on features and benefits. Also, remember if you have an electrical fire then your fixed mounted VHF will probably no longer work so that no mayday call can be sent. After this, it’s the EPIRB, a cell phone or a VHF handheld.


A pair of binoculars is another piece of equipment that should be on the safety list. Chances are you’ll see your rescuers before they see you, and you can then make sure they know where you are by repeating your signal, firing another flare, etc. There are brands that are fully waterproof and even float. The new generation of water sports binoculars is equipped with a digital compass and tilt function to determine the height of viewed objects and their distance.


Flashing strobe lights are excellent signalling devices both during the day and at night and even something shiny that catches the reflection of the sun that can attract the attention of a passing vessel is a good safety item. All you need is one thing that can attract attention to your predicament and there’s little likelihood of your life being in danger. There are some great units on the market now, such as the Odeo LED flare light that looks like a pyro from 5 miles and doesn’t have a dangerous flame. The McMurdo S10 AIS man overboard unit and diver recovery system is waterproof to 60m and is designed to be activated in the event of a man overboard situation or other personal crew emergencies.

The unit is activated and deactivated with a simple twist of the orange cap. The S10 features a high precision GPS and it will transmit position information and a serialised identity number back to your vessel’s onboard plotter, enabling you to be quickly located and recovered. The XENEC strobe light comes with and armband and C Cell Battery and the ACR Firefly strobe and Xenec SL15 are neat units that have a bright white light that can be seen for many miles. Again depending on the complexity of the unit, depends on the price.


Liferafts come in a wide varied of sizes, with the most popular in the recreational market being 4, 6 or 8 person as they are compact and small enough to fit on boats over 10m. There are smaller 2-3 person liferafts that stow in a soft valise and are ideal for the larger trailer boats. However, it’s not a piece of safety equipment that most trailer boats would have aboard. If you are going to look at a liferaft, again there are some excellent brands available. 

The first thing is to make sure they are Typedz approved and pass the required safety standards. You have the option of coastal liferafts which are designed for those who never venture too far off the coast, to offshore versions that are suitable if you intend passage making across open oceans. 

Life rafts are inflated by compressed gas, usually nitrogen and CO2, stored in a high-pressure cylinder. When the inflation lanyard is pulled, a valve releases the gas into the inflatable chamber(s). The resulting inflated shape may be square, pentagonal, hexagonal, octagonal, elongated octagonal, etc. Most have a protective canopy supported by one or more inflatable tubes.If you do most of your boating within easy VHF radio or cell phone range, and in proximity to Search and Rescue (SAR) assets from the Coast Guard or other agencies, then you may not need a raft, but you might consider having an inflatable or rigid dinghy available for rapid deployment.


Fire is probably the worst that can happen at sea because so much used in the construction and equipping of the boat is flammable. It also happens suddenly and so it is essential that action is taken immediately and that it is the right
action. A fine spray of water can be effective against an electrical fire, but don’t throw water on a petrol or galley fire. Keep a foam, dry powder or CO2 fire extinguisher in the cockpit and not in the cabin where it may not be easily reached. There are a number of nice compact units available that are suitable for marine use. Ideally, it should have a minimum capacity of 1kg, 2-3 kgs would be better and come with a plastic mounting bracket. If you have an inboard engine, then you might also consider an in-built system that can be activated either manually with the push of a button or with an automatic activation system. Remember that petrol can flash at any temperature, diesel at 66ºC and most oils at 232ºC. The only real answer to a fire at sea is to prevent it happening. That means regular inspection, maintenance and cleaning of the electrical and fuel systems. Most of today’s high-tech outboards and sterndrives don’t have carburettors anymore, so the risk of a flashback fire is exceedingly low. Also, the wiring looms are such that electrical fires in new trailer boats are also very rare. However they do happen and it pays to be ready just in case, especially if you have an older boat, with wiring that may be a little suspect.


No matter what size your boat having a medical kit aboard is a very good idea. This can be a small unit with the very basics such as plasters, gauze, scissors, bandages and iodine or something that is more substantial. The standard in onboard care, MedAire MedKits include equipment and medications for responding to common medical concerns and life threatening incidents. The company produce a broad range of specialist marine medical kits that go right through from the very basic to the more complex and even the Global OxyKit for airway management. The medicine pack includes everything you need for, trauma, broken bones, a heart attack kit, blood pressure monitor and even a vacuum splint set. A very serious piece of safety equipment that comes in compact, easy to stow bags.


An old saying is that there is no better answer to water coming aboard in sufficient quantity to threaten the boat, than a frightened man with a bucket. However, wielding a bucket or even a manual bilge pump is physically exhausting and won’t shift the 10000 litres an hour likely to be needed to keep a holed boat of average size
afloat. Bilge pumps are the answer and while they are standard in all CPC classified trailer boats they are surprisingly still an option for many. A 1000 – 1250 gph (4540 – 5675 litres/hour) bilge pump, for example, are not expensive.

You might also like to consider a Man Overboard recovery kit, grab bag with all the necessary safety items in, a sea anchor/drogue, a horn, torch, radar reflector, V sheet distress sheet and a glow stick. If you are going boating, then take the time out to check you are carrying the safety essentials. In the long run, it may be your life that you save! CAPTIONS 0 RFD provide a wide range of essential safety equipment suitable for any size boat. 

1 If you get in a situation like this, make sure you have all the necessary safety gear aboard. 2 Even if the water conditions are smooth and glassy, it’s still good practice to wear your lifejacket. 3 The Life Cells purpose is to keep essential safety gear on board in an easily accessible location in case of an emergency. 4 Flares, of course, are another must-have item aboard and can be bought singly or in handy waterproof packs. 5 The GME MT400 digital EPIRB has an automatically deployed antenna when the unit is removed from the quick-release mounting bracket. 6 The McMurdo Smartfind S10 AIS Beacon is an innovative manually activated personal safety device which incorporates both AIS and GPS technology. 7 The ResQLink PLB is a full-powered, GPS-enabled rescue beacon that weighs just 4.6 oz. 8 The Raymarine Ray49 is a compact fixed mount DSC VHF radio is ideal for smaller boats. 9 A pair of binoculars is another piece of equipment that should be on the safety list. 10The Odeo LED flare light that looks like a pyro from 5 miles and doesn’t have a dangerous flame. 11Liferafts come in a wide varied of sizes, with the most popular in the recreational market being 4, 6 or 8 person.
12 Fire is probably the worst that can happen at sea because so much used in the construction and equipping of the boat is flammable. 13No matter what size your boat having a medical kit aboard is a very good idea, such as those available from MedAire.

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