A while back, my friend asked us a question regarding boat safety. It got me thinking that we should write up a post about some of the safety equipment that we have onboard. Mitchell and I know that you might still worry about us, but hopefully this will help assure you that we’ve done our research and have taken as many precautions as possible.
Navigation – chartplotter, GPS, depth sounder, radar, anchor drag, autopilot
One of our first upgrades to the boat was a Garmin chartplotter. This device has been one of the most important tools on Sea Major as it contains digital charts and a GPS device. When turned on, it represents Sea Major with a little boat icon on the digital charts allowing us to see exactly where we are located. Also connected to our Garmin chartplotter is a depth sounder, radar and autopilot. The depth sounder detects how deep the water is under the boat. We can then compare that to the depths that are marked on the digital (and paper) charts. When purchasing the chartplotter, Mitchell also opted to get the Garmin radar and autopilot so that they could communicate seamlessly with the chartplotter. We turn the radar on when sailing/motoring at night, in the fog and during storms. It sends out a signal and allows us to see boats, land, storm clouds, and waves that we might not have noticed with our own eyes. When the signal bounces off of something, it shows up on our chartplotter with an orange blip. By tracking that orange blip, we can tell which way something is traveling. Another feature of the chartplotter that we love is the anchor alarm. This alarm can be set to any distance and will sound if you move out of that circle letting you know that your anchor might be dragging. (My genius of a husband had the great idea to buy an extra power cord for the Garmin so that we could set it next to our bed and look at it immediately if the alarm went off instead of running up to the cockpit each time. We sleep a lot more peacefully nowadays!) The final addition to our electronic navigation arsenal was a Garmin autopilot. Captain Morgan (that’s his name) is like a third crew member (and recognized by some insurance companies as thus). As soon as we safely pull up anchor and leave the harbor, we turn on Captain Morgan. Since he is linked to the chartplotter, we can simply touch the screen at our final destination and he will steer us there. When our destination is not a straight shot away, we simply point Captain Morgan towards the place where we will need to turn. When he is at the helm, one or both of us is/are still on watch and looking for objects in the water, other boats and constantly checking the chartplotter for depths and location.
On Sea Major, we also carry an abundance of reference books. We (well mostly Mitchell) have/has read the majority of these books on storm tactics, maintenance, navigation, etc. The books that haven’t been read cover to cover are ones that are used for reference when situations arise. The books have been written by the sailing gurus that present at all the workshops at the sailboat shows (like Jimmy Cornel, Larry and Lin Pardey, Beth Leonard, John Vigor, Chapman, etc.).
Ditch Bag and Medical Supplies
The red bag in the picture is called a ditch bag. It contains emergency equipment, food and water in case we ever need to abandon ship. The bag itself floats and would be put in our dinghy (or life raft if we cross the Pacific Ocean) if Sea Major is sinking. The blue bag is a medical kit that has been created specifically for offshore sailing. When compiling the supplies, it was taken into account that we might be days or weeks away from medical treatment. (Mitchell is dying to use the skin stapler. Thank God he’s a doctor!)
The books that you see in the picture were all recommended as some of the best offshore medical reference books. These, like our medical kit, assume that we might not have immediate access to medical treatment.
Navigation- paper charts and cruising guides
To supplement our digital charts on the Garmin, we also have paper charts for everywhere we cruise. These are used to plot our course and can be used to compare depths and landmasses with the chartplotter. In addition to paper charts, we also carry cruising guides for all the areas we visit. These are similar to travel books, but have been created specifically for cruisers. They provide us with information about the anchorages, marinas, moorings, clearing in procedures, available services and sketch charts for each location.
Mr. and Mrs. Fix-It: Tools and Spare Parts
Knowing that things break, we carry an assortment of tools and spares. (I now know the name and use of more tools than I ever did back on land! My favorite tool is the needle nose pliers.) Before leaving the US, we ordered spare parts for the majority of the important systems on board.
This little gem, our Honda 2000 generator, provides us with power when we can’t get it elsewhere. It runs on gasoline and can be used to power devices that require up to 1600 watts. This is what we used to run the scraping tool, the sander, my iron (for sewing projects) our space heater and can be used to run our little room air conditioner if we are dying of heat (which hasn’t happened yet). We love this little thing because it is SO quiet and it’s great on gas.
Another item that we added to Sea Major, was a Single Side Band (SSB) radio. This device uses radio waves to allow communication with other boats, emergency personnel, and land based facilities. It is on the SSB that we can also receive weather reports and send simple text emails when not near internet towers. By bouncing the radio waves off of the ionosphere, the SSB radio is capable of transmitting and receiving worldwide (on a good day).
Similar to the SSB, our VHF radio allows us to communicate with other boats, land based resources and listen to the weather. However, this is a short range radio and only transmits on line of sight.
In addition to the VHF, we also have a handheld VHF that has GPS capabilities. We can take our handheld VHF with us in the dinghy in case we get in a pinch. [It is on the handheld that I called Mitchell in St. Augustine when I took the dinghy to shore by myself and ran into the bridge. I was able to call him on Sea Major from the Sea Minor to tell him that I was ok.]
EPRIB and smoke/CO detector
The neon green object in the picture is called an EPRIB. This device can be used to transmit your exact location to rescue personnel in case of extreme emergency (aka- your boat is sinking or has sunk and you are in your life raft). The round white object to the right of our EPRIB is our CO and smoke detector. The smoke detector portion works TOO well.
This is a sail that can be put over our existing jib (the front sail) in storm conditions. Since it is a lot smaller than our normal jib, it gathers less wind and allows for a more comfortable (less heeled over) ride.
Life Vest, Tether and Strong Point
Before we even purchased Sea Major, Mitchell had purchased us brand-new life vests and tethers. The life vests are rated for offshore sailing and will inflate automatically (or manually). The yellow tether is used to clip our life vest (aka- our body) to the strong point (aka- the boat). We put our life vests/tethers on anytime there are more than 2 foot waves, in storm conditions and at night.
Life Sling and Flotation Device
If someone falls overboard, the flotation devices are immediately thrown to them. We have 2; one on either side of the boat. These are each attached to a 100 foot floating rope but are not tied to the boat so that the person can reach them as the boat is turning around. The life sling (white rectangular bag) is used to hoist the person back onboard.
The man-overboard-pole is thrown into the water right after the floatation devices in the event that someone falls in the drink. This allows for better visibility of the person in the water while turning the boat around.
These neon orange flat “ropes” can be run from the bow (front) of the boat to the stern (back) of the boat. They can be attached to cleats or run through handholds near the centerline of the boat. In storm conditions, the person (Mitchell) who has to go out on deck to do anything (ie. put up the storm jib) uses them to clip his tether onto so that he is attached to the boat at all times. The goal in sailing is to keep the people on the boat at all times! The jack lines help do that.
We have a total of 7 fire extinguishers onboard.
Our waterproof marine binoculars were one of the best purchases ever. They are 7 X 50 and were on sale at West Marine (yay!). They allow us to see things more clearly as we enter harbors or marinas. In addition, they increase visibility at night. Mitchell also likes to use them to spy on other boats in the anchorages!
This is a log book that you are supposed to keep when boating. It is used to record our time, position, heading, speed, helmsman, wind and weather. We write down all this information about every hour or so. This is done just in case something happens to the chartplotter; then we at least have some idea of where were we located in the recent past.
Drogue and Para Anchor
Sorry about the internet photo – I was too lazy to dig out the rest of our storm gear to take a picture. Our drogue and para anchor are used to slow the boat down in storm conditions. They are attached to either the bow or stern of the boat and drag through the water to decrease the speed. They can also be used as parachutes when jumping off the top of the mast!
I hope that helped! We love you all and want to reassure you that we don’t have a death wish! We try to take every precaution as possible and we don’t leave the harbor if conditions are going to be bad out there. We are constantly checking the weather (which means wind and waves- not temperature) and talking to other cruisers. In closing, we leave you with this image that Mitchell found on the internet which shows you cannot prepare for everything!