Windlass wisdom

Safety at hand

While readying your boat this spring, make sure your vessel has the proper safety equipment—life jackets and throw rings, flares, fire extinguishers, ground tackle, extra lines, a first aid kit, plugs, bungs for damage control, a whistle, and a portable VHF radio—and replace any outdated equipment. Pay particular attention to fire extinguishers. Your old extinguisher may look great, but will it do the job in the event of a fire?

Sensible placement of safety equipment is equally important, so take the time to investigate and decide the best place to stow each piece of equipment so it will always be close at hand.

At the helm

Boats are most vulnerable when under way, so safety equipment should be readily available at the helm station(s). Every boat’s danger points are different, so take a few minutes to sit at the helm and imagine where those potential trouble spots are in relation to the helm. Fire is the first fear, so make sure that you have at least one extinguisher at the helm as your first line of defense.

On the way out

After fire, sinking is the most terrifying prospect under way. Once a boat starts foundering, the process gains momentum. A 2-inch hole 1 foot below the waterline will allow in 78 gallons of water per minute, and when the hole reaches 3 feet below the surface, the volume increase to 136 gallons per minute. Even the mighty Lusitania went to the bottom in less than 18 minutes.

In other words, if your boat starts to sink, you’ll have very little time to get yourself and your passengers off safely. It makes sense to place your overboard safety equipment (portable VHF radio, flares, whistle and life jackets) where everyone can quickly grab it on the way out.

In the bilge

Despite our best efforts in keeping through-hull openings in good shape, a seacock or a hose can fail while under way. Yes, you can grab a pair of old socks or the dog’s chew toy and stuff it in the hole to stop the flow, but nothing works better than a bung or the soft, cone-shaped emergency plugs available at marine supply stores. Again, placement is everything. Stow them where they will be used. I keep a number of wood bungs and a rubber mallet in a plastic bag tied to the bulkhead near my boat’s raw water feed through-hulls. I hope never to use the bungs, but it’s a comfort knowing that they are there just in case.–Daniel S. Fannon


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