Covid-19 – before resuming sailing

I doubt there are many more desperate to get back on the water than this particular club sailor. I’m lucky that my club is not far away, sails on a pond of mostly walk-home depth and where the shore is rarely more than 100 yards away, so hopefully I’ll be back on the water soon. Which got me thinking about before I launch…

One of the key aspects of sailing for me is the need to take personal responsibility. That includes deciding whether the conditions are too much for us or our boat or our (family member) crew. In these strange times, it also means thinking harder about our personal safety and appraising the risk, not just in sailing, but in getting to and from our boats and then avoiding catching or inadvertently transmitting the pesky virus.

We all have different (often strong) views as to the Covid risks, with some being particularly cautious and others believing we should be easing our way back to some sort of normal life, rather than continued lock-down. We’ve had enough division of late with the Brexit debate; I hope we can respect each others’ opinions and choices on this rather than set off a further wave of conflict and stress. 

If your club/water remains shut, tempting as it may be, please don’t go rogue and sail anyway. If you have to travel a long way to your club, think about whether the trip is really justifiable. 

But with those tests passed, I propose a few further checks before actually going sailing, checks that we normally tend to be a bit too relaxed about. It seems common sense that we should doing everything we can to minimise the need for safety boat services – indeed, there might not be any if you are ‘free’-sailing. So here are some checks I recommend strongly before going on the water:

  • Read the weather forecast and satisfy yourself that you, boat and crew can handle the conditions before leaving home
  • Pack your tools and boat spares – you might need them when you get there
  • Also before leaving, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back
  • Assess the conditions again when you get to your club. Wind direction and tide can make more difference than wind-speed sometimes
  • Think about taking a (charged!) mobile phone, sealed in something waterproof and secured somewhere accessible. You could even switch your SIM to that older phone lurking in a drawer somewhere
  • Some suggest fitting a masthead float to reduce inversion risk (or mast-in-mud syndrome). I tend more towards thinking that if you think you need a float for these reasons, you should skip going out; sail another day instead
  • Check the boat over very thoroughly:
    • Check tanks are dry, all bungs are in, hatch covers on and buoyancy bags inflated
    • Check standing rigging – ensure wire is not fraying and all split rings/pins and shackles are secure. Check chainplate fixings too
    • if you use a bobble-knot on the main halyard, shift the knot a bit in case the rope is damaged internally
    • Check halyards for damage and excessive wear, dodgy shackles etc
    • Check toe-straps carefully all over, for loose seams, fixings, ropes et al 
    • Check rudder fittings (on hull and stock) are secure and wobble free
    • Check the tiller extension universal joint for the start of splits in the rubber
    • Inspect the rudder blade for suspicious cracks. Likewise daggerboards. If in doubt, check the centreboard; I recognise that is harder to do
    • Check the corners of each sail, satisfying yourself they are not going to pull off. Ditto spinnaker chute patches
    • When the boat is rigged, do a further inspection of everything, satisfying yourself all is hunky-dory (particularly look for missing split rings and loose clevis pins)

If any of these checks highlight a problem, fix it, using your tools and spares if needed. 

If you cannot fix it, put the boat away and cover back on. Note what you need, order them online and come back another day when you have the bits and can fix the problem.

Before launching also:

  • Make sure you have the right clothes on. If in doubt, layer up. Easier to shed layers if you get too hot than the other way around
  • Our hands are going to be softer than if we were sailing every week. Even if you don’t normally wear gloves, think about taking some in case. Blisters are a pain in more ways than one
  • The sun is getting strong and we’ve perhaps forgotten what to do when out and about for longer than an hour – put some sun screen on exposed skin
  • Make sure your are wearing a decent buoyancy aid that fits and won’t simply float up over your head if you go in the water
  • My experience with crash-hats is that they take some time to adjust to – initially increasing your chances of failing to duck sufficiently. So wear one if you are used to it but bear that experience in mind if you are new to them. Don’t think about using a cycle helmet – they add far too much height
  • Put a couple of metres of decent dyneema or 4mm rope either in your pocket or somewhere safe in the boat in case you have to jury-rig something
  • A spare shackle and some plastic tape might be worth having aboard too

When launching, you are going to have to deal with your own trolley, unless you have a family member with you – this may change our ingrained habits of collaborating and helping each other.

Don’t sail too far, stay out too long get tired and so start making mistakes.

Inevitably, I cannot guarantee this list exhaustive or covers every risk and contingency. Remember, it’s all about taking personal responsibility and applying your own common sense. With a dash of extra prudence thrown in please.

Enjoy your sailing and stay safe.


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