Preparing To Sail In Rough Conditions – Key Points To Consider?

Posted on October 8, 2014 by Lee under Boat maintenance, First Aid, Sailing, Sailing Courses Comments Off on Preparing To Sail In Rough Conditions – Key Points To Consider?

Sailing is all about knowing your limits, but despite the best efforts to avoid rough conditions, there can still be times when managing a vessel in rough seas is required.

Plenty of consideration of a wide range of factors is required and all can have an impact on safety and the overall experience for a sailor.

Many coastal and inland water sailors will not face truly rough conditions, but knowledge of wind speeds, wave height and direction, boat length and available sails remains essential.

Other sailors thrive on pushing themselves to the limit and see rough conditions as an ideal opportunity to showcase their skills.

The Extreme Sailing Series aims to test the world’s best sailors during eight sets of races – known as Acts – which occur in different locations throughout the year.

Act 7 took place in Nice in the French Riviera at the start of October and only Sydney, Australia is left for those taking part, including Great British Olympian Sir Ben Ainslie.

The racing aims to showcase the very best examples of sportsmanship, skill and strength of mind that exist in the global sailing circuit, but less experienced sailors may not be aware of how to cope with heavy conditions.


sailors sailing in rough conditions


Staying safe

When first learning to sail, great emphasis is placed on safety and on planning for as many risks as possible – preparing for and being aware of all eventualities is vital.

Despite anybody’s best intentions, accidents can still happen so knowing how to deal with them is important.

First aid courses can provide an understanding of how to recover people from the water, deal with injuries and even signal for emergency help.

Further survival courses can provide additional information and techniques and it is suggested that a sailor should not take to the water without some form of first aid and safety training.

Life jackets, flares and fire extinguishers should be checked in advance of setting sale, while there is plenty of safety advice available for both individuals and groups.

Other equipment including torches, life rafts, safety harnesses and radios should also be on board the vessel and all crew should be aware of how everything works.

The radio is one of the essential pieces of kit when sailing in rough conditions as it provides an immediate point of contact for emergency services and to contact other vessels.

Assign tasks based on experience

Many tasks on a sailing boat require confidence but that is only developed with experience which is gained via time on the water.

Tasks assigned to crew members should be done so according to ability and experience – poor decision-making can cause accidents, so more experienced sailors should undertake more complex roles.

Of vital importance here is to ensure that any assigned tasks are fully understood by the individual who would undertake them.

Fatigue can also lead to problems, so a skipper should ensure that a crew is as rested as possible while it is best to have several routes planned in the event of a sudden change in conditions.

Considering the conditions

Many sailing boats are designed for different conditions and some may easily capsize if the waves are too high or the winds too strong.

Therefore knowing the capabilities of any boat, and the crew aboard it, is essential when preparing for rough waters.

Waves can cause a boat to roll over if a mixture of conditions occurs at the same moment, which requires people to carefully manage a situation.

Day skipper courses provide some of the necessary skills but essentially a wave height that is equal to 30% of the boat length could cause a rollover in moderate wind conditions.

In real terms this means a 30-foot boat that was hit broadside by a 9-foot wave in 20 knot winds could capsize.

Recognising ability levels

Accidents are more likely in rough conditions and it is essential that sailors do not push themselves beyond their abilities.

Different levels of knowledge and experience are required for varying conditions, so a sailor should ensure they have sufficient sailing training and be honest in their approach.

This should ensure they have an understanding of what they are doing which should in turn enhance their sailing experience, especially in tougher conditions.


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