Or are they?
With the beginning of our trip 8 months away, we are doing more and more gear buying as we work through our lists of needs. One of the lists I have been working on this week has been safety gear. Specifically, I have been figuring out the scope of what I need for my motley cabin crew.
As well as safety gear for the boat, I was looking at specific things I would need for each boy. My starting place was to go to Landfall Navigation (a great source for safety equipment) and go shopping in “unlimited budget mode”.
Let’s look at what I came up with, and do it in the order of how they might prevent disaster
Jackline + Children’s Harness and Tether
The number one goal for safety, even in my limited knowledge is not make sure you don’t fall off the boat. I remember reading one opinion of an old salt of him described the reality of his MOB drill in difficult seas/at night, under full sail, with short handed crew. You turn around and wave goodbye.
With that in mind, it’s critical we have a good jackline, harnesses and tethers.
Up till now for my inshore sailing, I have been using webbing purchased from a climbing store and harnesses/tethers made more for adults. These can cause issues with incorrect fit, so let’s go for an adjustable Jackline (here called a jackstay) and specific child harnesses and tethers.
Wichard Lyf’Safe Jackstays: 45′ Jackline
Crewsaver Venturer Child Harness
Crewsaver Venturer Child Harness: Safety Tether
We follow some basic rules with our harnesses (we’ll get to lifejackets in a moment).
- If you go forward and we are moving, you wear a harness.
- If we are reefed (i.e. 15+ knots) and you are in the cockpit, you wear a harness.
Two things we have learned with the tether set up are it’s better to try and run the jackline down the middle of the boat and to have slightly shorter tethers. Unlike for an adult who needs to reach around for working on the rigging, with children, my goal is to keep them from falling off. Having the jackline go down the middle means the simply can’t reach the toerail. Using two jacklines either side of the mast, but both down the middle means they never have to unclip to go round the mast.
Strangely, most tragic drowning-related accidents with children and boats occur when the boat is not moving. As a former lifeguard, I know that the film depiction of someone drowning is very misleading. Most often, they will be quiet, still and slowly slide under the water. The whole splashing around and gasping for breath is for the movies.
This takes us to our next items, lifejackets.
Of course we need them for coast guard requirements. But as to their effectiveness when someone goes over the side, Like the old salt’s opinion above, I suspect we wear them more to make ourselves feel safer more than any actual reality.
But, it still makes me feel better when the boys have them on, and like harnesses, we have rules:
- If are on deck and we are moving, you wear a lifejacket.
- If we are stationary, and unsupervised on deck, you wear a lifejacket.
Seeing as we have unlimited budget here, I am going to get two sets. One with neck support that will turn an unconscious child face up, and one for more general use with more comfort (and less buoyancy) for swimming and messing around.
Children’s Life Vest: Mustang Lil’ Legend Youth Type III
Stohlquist DRIFTer Youth Life Jacket
Even in the few years we have been sailing, I have really found rule #2 has been of more use. There have been quite a few times where we have been at dock or anchored, turned around and one of the kids have tumbled in.
Our definition of “unsupervised” is an adult isn’t within arm’s reach and focussed on you. Down the other end of the boat reading does not count!
MOB Signalling Gear
So let’s assume the worst, the swab goes overboard and we need to find him. At the most basic level, said swab needs a whistle and a knife. A safety knife and whistle (without a pea) go in a pouch on the lifejacket.
ACR Man Overboard Rescue Whistle
Revere Floating Knife
At this point the boys have got very excited and seem to rather start missing the point. “Oooooo, knife, can I cut that wood, dad, can I cut this rope, can I cut……”.
I think I might figure out a way to keep is “sealed” but accessible. Maybe a bit of wax sealer?
Automated MOB Signalling Gear
Now the whistle and knife probably are of minimal use, though containing great opportunity for band aids. A child under 10 is pretty unlikely to to do well actively signalling. Probably the best we can hope for is that they are not panicking. Note, MOB training is pretty important. Pick a day when you are ghosting at 1-2 knots and run drills with actual people rather than the traditional fender and bucket. Perhaps you’ll gasp and be outraged at that thought, but I am convinced that even a small child needs to have experienced the feeling of being in the water with the boat slowly moving away.
There are some safety products that are available that provide some automated signalling.
They are expensive, but there are wireless crew monitoring and man-overboard alert systems that signal if a person falls overboard, the immersion sounds an alarm to back on the boat to alert the crew. An alarm is sounded if the unit moves away from the boat for a distance of 35 feet. They can also be activated manually. One such system is the Raymarine LifeTag.
The base station and three “tags” would cost $700
Less expensive, and a signalling device to retrieve the MOB (should that be COB?) would be a strobe. They range from $10 – $100. For a child application, we need something small and automated, perhaps a ACR HemiLight 2 costing $53 for three.
At the high end of signalling safety equipment would be Personal Locator Beacons (PLB’s) and Personal AIS (Automatic Identification System) Beacons (a PAISB?). I don’t think a PLB is that useful in our situation. They will call the coast guard, but if a child is hidden between waves 40′ away we won’t know until the helicopter turns up. More useful is the Personal AIS Beacon. These are pretty new (and expensive). They work by sending a signal via VHF to nearby AIS units. Ideal to locate and find that COB. One of the current 2-3 on the market is the Kannad SafeLink R10 SRS AIS. Cost for three, $750.
So buying all this children’s safety gear is around $2600, even from Landfall which has lower prices than most places. Knowing that we still have to drop $2000-3000 on more general safety gear for the boat, I find myself asking the strange question, “how much do I really want to spend on my children’s safety?”
The jackline, children’s harness and tethers are the primary line of defence. Perhaps just one set of lifejackets, and then the strobes and try and find a more affordable MOB alert system. This would take our cost down to about $1000.
Good job they are so cute.