Scuttlebutt Website SCUTTLEBUTT
Who's Online WHO'S
Log in LOG IN         

Forum Index: .: Dock Talk:
Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices
Team McLube



Nov 28, 2005, 11:56 PM

Post #1 of 27 (59768 views)
Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices Log-In to Post/Reply

           Personal Floatation Devices (PFD's) is a safety equipment, designed specifically to preserve a person's life when in water. It must be worn by all persons when afloat. A child should be taught how to put on a device and should be allowed to try it on the water. It is important that the child feels comfortable and knows what the PFD is for and how it works.


Nov 29, 2005, 3:39 AM

Post #2 of 27 (59757 views)
Re: [KVC] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I agree completely. Not enough people are wearing PFD's these days, especially racers. They shouldn't be required to be worn though. The captain should make the decision. All children should be required to wear PFD's while racing.


Dec 2, 2005, 11:40 AM

Post #3 of 27 (59695 views)
Re: [the_sphincter] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I couldn't disagree more. If I am out in the summer in 6 knots of wind and am a good swimmer why the heck do I want to be wearing a life jacket? On the one chance in a million that something breaks and knocks me out and off the boat? Not for me thanks. Now if you have no confidence in your own abilities or those of your mates then wear what you want, just don't try to tell me what to wear!


Dec 12, 2005, 12:48 PM

Post #4 of 27 (59640 views)
Re: [Mummy] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

as my dad said to me regarding a helmet when I had less-experienced friends over driving my minibikes, "If you won't wear it to save your own life, would you wear it to save someone elses?"


Dec 12, 2005, 1:04 PM

Post #5 of 27 (59637 views)
Re: [msherman] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

If conditions warrant a PFD then certainly. However, as a strong swimmer almost always with other strong swimmers on board, if it is nice out I am not wearing a PFD. I also rock climb and I don't wear a helmut there unless conditions warrant it. And my stupidity is usually not a reason to wear such a device. Sorry, but I am willing to take those 1 in a million chances that something really bad happens. If you aren't and need to always wear your PFD, I am not going to be the one to tell you not to. So please, don't tell me to wear one.

Buffalo Hunter

Dec 13, 2005, 2:32 AM

Post #6 of 27 (59621 views)
Re: [Mummy] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

2 weeks ago in 25kn and 2 new female crew on board,we gave them the option of wearing a pfd.Both put one on as they were unsure,however 1/2 way through the race they felt comfortable to take them off.They had been given the option and exercised that,now they know at least that they are there and available should they feel unsure again.

As an owner it should not be mandatory,purely discression of the individual.The law makers seem fit to feel otherwise however.


Jan 2, 2006, 11:05 AM

Post #7 of 27 (59509 views)
Re: [Buffalo Hunter] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I CHOOSE to wear my PFD more often than not. I see it as for my own self preservation, not because some law maker decided I am too dumb to make the decision on my own!

Encouraging new crew to wear one, until they feel confident in their own safety, is a smart way to go. On the other hand, ridiculing crew who choose to wear one is just irresponsible.

Just my 2-cents.....

The Publisher

Aug 23, 2012, 5:49 AM

Post #8 of 27 (58413 views)
Re: [Andy_334] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

By Bill Schanen, SAILING magazine
Folks, I'm trying to get my head around the idea that we're supposed to
wear PFDs at all times on a boat.

I suppose I should be able to do this. It wouldn't be the first time I've
changed my behavior in the name of safety.

For example, I used to ride a bike without a helmet, but now I wear one
most of the time. Of course, when I started riding a two-wheeler, bike
helmets hadn't yet been invented. But I've figured out that on my
lightweight road bike with its skinny tires pumped to 140 pounds PSI and my
shoes clipped to the pedals I could be moving on downgrades at more than 35
mph and if something went wrong my head would need all the protection it
could get.

Still, I don't wear a helmet at all times when biking, not, say, on a
rented fat-tired bike on Mackinac Island trying to pedal fast enough to
stay vertical while following day-trippers and horses moving at a garden
slug's pace.

It seems I wear the helmet when bike riding is potentially dangerous and I
don't when it's not. Hmmm, I wonder whether that has any application for

This magazine gets letters from readers asserting that it is a fundamental
rule of sailing that PFDs must be worn at all times. These same letter
writers chastise SAILING for publishing pictures of people sailing without
PFDs because this sets a bad example of unsafe boating.

This is probably a good place to say that I am all for safe boating. Let me
add that this magazine stands foursquare behind safety too.

But help me out here, people, with this PFDs all-the-time-every-time
concept. Let's say I'm on a sound, stable cruising boat sailing in zephyrs
on flat, warm water along a nearby shore. Am I really committing a sin
against the god of safe boating by not wearing a life vest?

I'm wondering, how is this scenario more dangerous than walking on a marina
pier or fishing from a river bank? Is it a safety commandment to wear PFDs
there too? Or to cinch up a life vest while eating at a dockside

I'm trying to rationalize how swimming fits into the PFD imperative. If
water is so dangerous that you always have to wear a flotation device on a
boat, you certainly have to wear one when you actually go into the water,
right? But you can't really swim wearing a life jacket. And don't even
think about diving. So no PFDs while swimming. -- Read on:

The Publisher

Aug 23, 2012, 5:51 AM

Post #9 of 27 (58412 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Roger Vaughan:
I'm totally in league with Bill Schanen's resistance to wearing PDFs
whenever we are within sight of water -- including the decks of waterfront

Wearing PDFs is about common sense. I wore one frostbiting my Sunfish, and
racing dinghies, and wore one (and a safety harness) on the leg of the
Whitbread I sailed. But sue me: I didn't wear my PDF down below, off watch,
in my bunk. When the going gets weird, I put on a PDF. Absolutely. But
otherwise I've pleasure sailed for many (many) years without one, and will
continue to do so.

Common sense seems to be at low tide in this country. It seems some people
would rather have more laws so they don't have to make the enormous effort
of opening the common sense portal of their brains. Would those promoting a
full-time PDF rule also want parachutes to be required on passenger jets?
What about making a law requiring restraints to prevent us from rolling out
of bed and getting injured? Hey, it happens. My uncle sprained his thumb
that way.

The fact is, try as we might, there is no way to make laws that will
protect us from ourselves. If you want to shoot yourself in the foot, then
you will shoot yourself in the foot. Period. Common sense, people. Try it.
It works.

From By Baldridge:
Regarding Bill Schanen's commentary concerning mandatory life jacket
attire, this is why I do not drink alcohol (preferably Mt. Gay) unless
there is a lawyer present. I am 61 years old and have sailed hundreds of
thousands of miles without a PFD or safety harness. I am responsible for my
actions. My sons, who are great sailors in their own right, must abide by
the new normal, but I still want them to be able to survive what comes,
with or without these aids, which I believe may give a false sense of

From Rob Peters:
My last boat was a small sled that we raced offshore, and as soon as dusk
arrived, our rule was that anyone on watch had to be in a harness and
tether. Personally, I wore an inflatable life vest which incorporated a
harness. On a few occasions, I had a crew member plucked off the foredeck
by a wave and washed back to the cockpit. Full gales in the North Atlantic
on a 4000 lb boat are "challenging" especially after dark while you're
still trying to race. Safety was not an option; it was an absolute.

The Publisher

Aug 23, 2012, 5:54 AM

Post #10 of 27 (58410 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Paul Tara:
Regarding "A Sailor's Rule For Wearing a Life Vest", here's a fairly accurate
description of hypothermic shock for Bill Schanen and Scuttlebutt readers
to consider. Let's see if they can identify the author and work without Googling.

"How I went over I do not know, though I did know, and instantly, why those
in the water were so desirous of getting back on the steamer. The water was
cold -- so cold that it was painful. The pang, as I plunged into it, was as
quick and sharp as that of fire. It bit to the marrow. It was like the grip
of death. I gasped with the anguish and shock of it, filling my lungs
before the life-preserver popped me to the surface. The taste of the salt
was strong in my mouth, and I was strangling with the acrid stuff in my
throat and lungs."

Me, even after 30 years racing 505's, I don't swim that well. I don't care
if it's a fat keelboat, a ski boat, a bass boat, a dinghy, or a RIB, I
always wear my PFD, and I find the backstroke to be reasonably effective
when I have it on.

From Gerard Wolf:
Regarding Bill Schanen's missive regarding mandatory use of pfd's at all
times. Right On Bill!. I have met Bill over the years and consider him an
excellent seaman and judge of sailing requirements. Requiring PFD's at all
times is an onerous mandate.

The Publisher

Aug 23, 2012, 4:56 PM

Post #11 of 27 (58386 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Mike Esposito:
Mandating a blood-alcohol analysis before leaving a bar would probably save more lives than any PFD requirement. Quit being nannies for responsible adults. How about this rule instead: You know you should wear a PFD, if you don’t and you drown, you don’t get to complain about it.

From Patrick Blaney:
I live in a country where the wearing of PFD’s in boats smaller than 8m is compulsory - Ireland. This became law after a series of small boat accidents, in many cases where more people than was safe were in a small open fishing boat, out to sea on a day where the weather changed. The investigations found that, had they been wearing lifejackets, some of the victims could have been saved. The problem was the boats were not seaworthy, and were in some cases overloaded, were poorly maintained - but the solution was to legislate for lifejackets, not to make boats more seaworthy.

Like many sailors, I regarded this imposition as precisely that - an imposition by those who don’t know any better, but prefer to legislate than educate.

Nothing beats personal responsibility, founded on experience, knowledge, good seamanship and judgment - but so many people go out on boats with no knowledge or experience - and so can’t make informed judgments. Reading the (usually excellent) reports on the many tragedies that have impacted our sport in the past 12 months (many of them in the USA) has taught me a few things as follows:

- Safety is a state of mind, and it’s not what you do when the accident happens that counts, it’s what you did in advance.
- Nothing beats advance preparation - whether wearing a lifejacket or practicing MOB drills.
- Like many sailors, I used to wear my PFD only when, in my opinion, conditions warrant it - but I have often been caught out when conditions changed.
- I now wear my lifejacket at all times when I am out racing, irrespective of the weather conditions; it’s just a part of the wardrobe and automatic now.
- The only time I do not wear a lifejacket is when I am cruising on my 16m keelboat (which has hydraulic reefing gear operated from the cockpit) and the weather is good.
- Lifejackets and harness (clipped on to jackstays) are always worn when conditions warrant - and ALWAYS when anyone is going out on deck for any reason, and by the crew on watch at night (in or out of the cockpit).
- It is so easy to fall overboard even in light weather - so better to be attached than lost.


Aug 23, 2012, 7:41 PM

Post #12 of 27 (58341 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Patrick is right to lament the "lowest common denominator, knee-jerk response" to boating accidents: making lifejackets mandatory. He is also right about changing conditions catching people unawares. Ireland can be very surprising. We were cruising up the coast towards Dublin on a beautiful summer weekend afternoon. A steady 15knot offshore breeze had let us reach quickly up the coast from Wicklow, watching the Martello towers slide by a mile or two to windward, white markers against the rolling green pastures. Suddenly a black cloud formed over the land and moved towards us. We started the engine but it was on us with at least 50 knots of wind and heavy rain before we could get the sails down. I have been in squalls on Long Island Sound, the Gulf Stream, and Lake Michigan, but never in a fire-hose situation like this, with it raining so hard you could not breathe without making a space with your hands to keep from breathing water. It must have lasted about 15-20 minutes. After we got the sails down & furled the rain stopped, but the wind kept up at about 25-30 knots. That was when we came across a man and his two children in a rowboat. They'd been out fishing near the shore on a beautiful summer weekend afternoon, and were now headed across the Irish Sea towards Liverpool at about three knots, despite the man's frantic efforts to the contrary. They were cold, tired, scared and sopping wet. I do not recall whether they were wearing PFD's - I would hope so. We took them aboard, wrapped them in blankets, gave them something hot to drink, and headed in to DunLaoghaire. A better boat would have left them in the same situation. If we had not come along, lifejackets might have made a big difference for them. Sometimes the lowest common denominator is what counts.

Ken Cormier

Aug 24, 2012, 5:34 AM

Post #13 of 27 (58260 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

In reply to Mike Esposito's comments, the consequences never remain with only the adult victim that is responsible for himself, but the rescue workers and searchers that risk their lives trying to save or find the remains of the victim.


Aug 25, 2012, 7:53 PM

Post #14 of 27 (57944 views)
Re: [Ken Cormier] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

If the water is cold enough, there are no strong swimmers, since swim failure occurs rapidly in cold water. Recover of crew overboard is difficult and can put fellow crew at risk, and for racers, is a real race-losing proposition. Proper tethering isn't talked about as much as it should be.

Rich Hayes (UK)

Aug 27, 2012, 5:46 AM

Post #15 of 27 (57851 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I thought I would take a look at the actual figures in this issue, with a surprising result.

These figures are the latest available for the UK (2010, published Feb 2012) and come from the National Water Safety Forum, whose members include the Maritime Coastguard Agency, RNLI, Fire Service, and other organisations in the front line of pulling people out of the water. In 2010, there were 420 drownings in all UK waters, of which six (1.43%) were classified under 'sailing'. There were 17 drownings from 'manually powered boats' in coastal waters, including harbours.

To put this into perspective, there were 20 drownings from scuba diving, 15 in a vehicle of which 1 was a suspected suicide, and 24 in a bath, hot tub or jacuzzi.

Therefore it should be compulsory to wear a PFD in the bath or hot tub at home; you are four times more likely to drown there than when you go sailing.

I hope I have interpreted the figures correctly, but if anyone wants to check the detailed report, here is the link:

Rich Hayes.

The Publisher

Aug 27, 2012, 8:02 AM

Post #16 of 27 (57845 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Donald Street:
Regarding Patrick Blaney's note about the Irish regulation regarding life jackets, when I climb into my 18' clinker dinghy to row about 100 yards to our 74 year old dragon for day racing in Glandore harbor, having sailed for 70 of my 82 years, and never having worn a life jacket, I am not about to start now!

Some people say, "you might get arrested for not wearing a life jacket!", to which I reply, "I will have so much fun arguing with the prosecuting attorney, and the judge, it will be worth the fine! Also my fellow yachting writers will love it. Think of the wonderful copy they will be able to write about how Don Street, at 82, who has sailed continually for 70 years, who is the oldest, and longest serving (first article in Yachting Sept 1964 Going South) yachting writer in the world, that is still sailing and racing a 74 year old dragon, and still drinking Heineken, is arrested and fined for not wearing a life jacket."

Then some people say" but you might fall overboard and drown!", to which I reply, " a much better way to die than in a nursing home".

From Derek K Bouwer:
To all who question the wearing of a life preserver while sailing, they need only have to ask themselves one question: "How long can I tread water?" in sea boots and foul weather gear? The answer is not very long, thought the good thing is it only take 5 minutes to drown Q.E.D.

The Publisher

Aug 28, 2012, 7:09 AM

Post #17 of 27 (57709 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Rich Hayes:
If you fall overboard in sea boots and foul weather gear, don't try to tread water. Turn onto your back and float; you are more buoyant than you think.

From Roger Marshall:
The things I learned, while jumping into the ocean during the research for my book, Rough Weather Seamanship, are:
1. You can't swim in a lifejacket unless you are good at backstroke. The Coast Guard suggests you lie on your back and wait to be rescued. Not an approach for a self-reliant sailor. A half-inflated lifejacket allows you to swim breast stroke. I use a Stormy Seas vest/jacket for precisely this reason.
2. Getting back onboard is a lot harder than virtually anybody realizes. All my cruising designs now feature steps on the transom to facilitate getting back aboard. Unless you have amazing arm strength, you cannot pull yourself back aboard without help wearing a lifejacket and wet clothes.
3. You can't get into a liferaft wearing a lifejacket without help. I tried, hard. I figured the easiest way is to semi-deflate the lifejacket (not to be recommended) and kick hard to slide into the liferaft.
4. Liferafts turn over easily when you try to get into them.
5. It is very hard to see anybody in the water. If you drop anybody over the side, leave a debris trail - cushions and anything that will float. This serves two purposes. It gives the MOB something to swim toward and it gives the boat a trail to the MOB. Plus it shows the helmsman where the debris and the swimmer might have been carried by wind and current.
6. If you put on a survival suit and go into the water, getting out requires a crane or ladder. The suit is super heavy when it is waterlogged and it takes a strong person to climb out of the water.
7. Finally, wear a harness but you need a quick release. We found that a swimmer towed at more than 4 knots could not keep their head above water and would drown if the boat was not slowed down.

The Publisher

Aug 29, 2012, 9:16 AM

Post #18 of 27 (57590 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Gerard Wolf:
Thanks so much to Rich Hayes (ever since Tom B I have never worn boots!) and especially Roger Marshall for their posts regarding MOB issues. While I have tested inflatable PFD's, I have never tried to re-board a boat with one on. Your advice is quite sage and I will be forwarding it to all shipmates, past and present, as I consider what you have disclosed to be quite important in a life sustaining situation. While I have never been overboard, which usually happens in nasty conditions, what you wrote Roger, will likely save many lives.

From Norbert Marin:
Quoting Bernard Shaw "Statistics is a science that shows that if my neighbor has two cars and I none, we both have one."

In Response to Rich Hayes regarding National Water Safety Forum Statistics, you have to bear in mind that the figure of six deaths under "sailing" in 2012 would have been much bigger if sailors would not wear PFD's as a norm either voluntarily or by law. So the way I read this statistic is that thanks to PFD's, there were only 6 deaths in 2010 relating to sailing.

The Publisher

Aug 30, 2012, 8:23 AM

Post #19 of 27 (57507 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From: Eric Sorensen

I am out cruising so didn't see the thread on going over and trying to get back on board. Here is my late 2 cents.

At a Catalina 42 Rendezvous in Deer Harbor, in the San Juans in WA, I donned my thick wetsuit, harness with 15 year old inflatable PFD, and 'fell in' with 10 bodies (other C-42 owners) aboard. The first amazement was the cartridge in the PFD fired and I floated fine. The wet suit was required because we figure 15 minutes up here for total hypothermia.

Getting the boat back to me from full sail took less than 10 minutes the first time and less time after that when motoring. The lifesling using the 'waterski' circle pickup driving technique was great. We did this 3 times using motoring, and motor sailing. The crew was worn down after that.

It was the getting back aboard that was very difficult. I had a harness and pretended to be unconscious, except to moan a bit and answer the odd question on how to or where something was. (We were on my boat, Jah Mon). I came over the rail twice using a halyard. The cabin top winches were too weany (Lewmar 40s) and they had to rig the halyard to the primarys (52s). We went through grinders like kleenex! The ladies just barely could get a few strokes in, not nearly enough to get my 200lb body and wetsuit out of the water. We even had a big 28v drill that plugs into the winch. It was not enough.

On the third retrieval, they pulled me onto the swimstep (the C-42 has a cutaway transom). This might have been dangerous in waves but it was pretty flat so no worries. That is the only way my wife by herself could have gotten my head aboard and I would have to be conscious to scramble back up the swim ladder as there was no way they could figure to hoist me back there in spite of a 4:1 dink motor tower hoist located on the transom. She would have had to tow me.

The entire experience was eye opening and all YCs should do a day of this testing with as many aboard as feasible. I know when I go over, that is probably it. Now I know.

The Publisher

Aug 30, 2012, 8:53 AM

Post #20 of 27 (57486 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Cory Friedman:
I really don't care if someone wants to compete for a Darwin Award by not wearing a PFD when no NOR or SI requires one and organized sailing won't wind up with another black eye. Knock yourself out. What I would like to know is why these folks feel the need to bore everyone about it. There is no proposal I am aware of to require PFDs and no PETA style organization attempting public shaming. As for Bill Schanen publishing pictures of allegedly unsafe boating, again, who cares? Indeed, if he wants to publish pictures of unsafe sex while unsafe boating, that's fine too. That might be more interesting that this breast-beating and would probably sell more magazines. I wear a PFD because I'm a lousy swimmer. To each his own. Just don't tell me you don't believe in health insurance either, so that when you wind up hospitalized because you didn't wear a PFD and can't pay, my insurance goes up to pay for you.

From Thad Danielson:
Derek K Bouwer's use of QED is a personal statement, as there is no logical argument offered, only a perhaps false assumption. I was just today reading the claim that sea boots and foul weather gear offer flotation which can be utilized by floating on your back, and they will probably give a little insulating advantage against cold too. Politicians pass laws like this because they think it makes them look good. Others, not all, who wear PFD out of some fear want everyone to share their fear, or whatever they wish to call it.

From Rob McNeal:
I almost learned my lesson the hard way about wearing a PFD. At a Hobie buoy race off the west coast of Florida, like so many sailing days, it began as a drifter but then the inevitable afternoon thunder storm loomed. Because it was calm early and the PFD's are hot, neither the crew nor I had them on, but they were within easy reach on the boat. As the wind picks up, there never seems to be the right time to stop racing and put it on.

During a last rounding of the leeward mark, we capsized at the mark as the storm arrived. We thought we could make it around. Everyone behind us abandoned the race. Everyone ahead of us rounded and finished. Even capsized, I did not think to put the PFD on. I was around 30 years old, fit, healthy, and a good swimmer. I chose to swim out (27 ft) to the end of the mast in an attempt to get the boat oriented for righting. I got very tired, very quickly, and became suddenly very sleepy in the water… holding on to a mast that was sinking. Recognizing just how dangerous this had become, I swam back to the boat, my crew and I put the PFD's on, and we abandoned righting efforts until it was less crazy.

From then on, no matter what the weather off the beach in the morning, we wore the PFD's mandatory on my boat because I had seen firsthand how fast things can catch up with you and there is never an easy time to put it on before it can get really out of control. I know this doesn't compare well to a big boat with a cabin and such, but I submit the same reasoning applies. If you are racing and the weather goes south, unless someone forces the issue, we humans just won't take the time to put them on usually. And that can be tragic. That was in the days before comfortable 50mph inflatable PFD's (Mustang) were available. I don't wear it on my 30 footer in the bay but offshore, especially at night- there is no excuse not to.

From Gene R. Rankin, Madison, WI
Regarding Bill Schanen's comments on wearing PFDs (Scuttlebutt 3659), I've been racing for over 40 years, and came to offshore racing from dinghy racing. In dinghies, one always expects to end up in the water, and so PFDs are always worn.

When I started racing offshore, I worked the pointy end and wore my PFD when the weather got interesting. I'd get teased as being a Lands' End cover boy ... but I pointed out that, since I knew I'd stay afloat, I'd be faster than the scoffers. Next time the weather got interesting, the scoffers were in their PFDs.

When I've done long races (or on a recent transatlantic run) PFDs were worn on deck for all night watches and harnesses and tethers when the weather got interesting. I'll continue to do so.

The Publisher

Sep 10, 2012, 10:08 AM

Post #21 of 27 (55856 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply


Let’s thank Bill Shanen for sticking his neck out on the lifejacket debate. Not often you will get a magazine editor taking such a stand, with risk to his readership numbers, – but wait, he’s not sticking his neck out at all, just talking common sense.

Without paraphrasing his article, bike helmet examples included (the same analogy I always use when I launch into this debate), I’ll make this discussion anecdotal.

I am a living example of one who seldom wore or wears a PFD, even in what can be construed by some people as extreme conditions. Sure, growing up in Belmont Harbor in Chicago we (our gang of friends called the Harbor Rats) wore lifejackets in the dinghy program, but once the bell rang and school was out, that was it. The rest of the day (and into the night), weekends and all through the summer holidays the need for lifejackets never came up and we did some pretty radical maneuvers in our dad’s dinghies, yachts and the club’s crash boats – even risking ourselves without knowing it, saving other peoples boats that were trying to sink themselves or that broke loose on moorings.

This unconscious lack of thought for one’s own safety continued right through my ocean-racing career. Going around the world, we wore harnesses, but it had to be pretty rough to put one on. ‘PFD’s, at least those you could wear and still move around at all, i.e. the inflatable type, hadn’t been invented. I now put on a PFD when I feel vulnerable, but never as a ‘rule’ when afloat, and when I do it’s more about the harness and tether than the flotation device. ‘Stick with the boat’ is the golden rule.

On the other hand, when I am in charge of a crew going offshore, there does come a time when the order is ‘lifejackets and harnesses on,’ or when I see that someone is not very steady in the first place, or he/she is revealed as a non swimmer, for sure the skipper must have the prerogative to make that decision on someone’s behalf.

I’m sure some viewer’s eyes were raised if they saw our BBC film in 2008 ‘The Top Dogs, where Sir Robin Knox-Johnston took John Simpson, senior foreign correspondent from the BBC and Sir Ranulf Fiennes (Britain’s greatest living polar explorer) around Cape Horn on my Pelagic, part of a three part series taking people out of their comfort zone. In the film there was Robin and I in 40 knots and big seas with no jackets or tethers. We sure had John and Ran wired up, as they were non- sailors. But Robin and I never felt the need, and we never discussed it.

Of course when Eric Tabarly was washed overboard and lost in the Irish Sea some years ago, I’m sure he thought the same . . . . of course anything can and does happen. It might happen to me. I am prepared to take this risk.

Last spring I was on the Hamble River in the UK, crabbing with my two kids on the public jetty. It was a calm sunny spring day, and all things that floated were out in force. An idyllic scene – except for one detail that immediately caught my eye, something I had never noticed after having lived on the river for 20 years, albeit not since year 2000. Everyone was wearing a lifejacket. An old boy, obviously no stranger to the river, rowed his pram up alongside the jetty. He had a lifejacket on. I couldn’t help asking him if it was now law that everyone had to wear a PFD on any sort of watercraft. He looked at me sadly, a bit embarrassed, and said, “No, not yet, but that’s the way things have gone . . .” Brain washing in effect.

I might sound arrogant (no surprise to anyone who knows my ways) about all of this, certainly to someone who has lost a loved one or friend in a drowning incident, where a PFD might have saved him or her. It is , however, easy to use a few tragic examples to promote these safety arguments, but surely the statistics do not support the need. Tell me if I am wrong (when compared to say the need for seatbelts and the risk of accidents on the road).

I take my kids sailing on my Laser. They steer and do the main sheet in light airs – no PFD’s are needed. When it blows I take over, they provide some ballast and for sure I have them wear PFD’s. But I am continually searching for ways to get them on the water (kayaks, dinghies, anything that floats) without PFD’s not only for the sense of freedom and self reliance, but also to avoid what I call ‘life jacket dependency.’ It is a tragedy to sometimes overhear, “Hey kid, want to go for a ride?” Kid’s answer, “I can’t, not without a lifejacket . . . . “

The reason sailing is so compelling as a sport and a life skill is because the variation of events can be enormous, even on a single day out, never mind a long offshore passage. The success of the venture is the ability to continually make judgment calls. Rules and cook book methods are great background material, but they will never replace raw feel and intuition which only comes from experience of course. Granted, you have to pass A to get to B. May I make the bold statement that overuse of PFD’s actually promotes a sense of fear of the water, and lead to what can be a false sense of security, in effect creating a mental block to achieve the B.

Due to electronic navigation methods,, which were inevitable, we have already lost various ‘seat of the pants’ skills, and many fundamental techniques – call it the art of sailing. Ditto with the ultra efficient and all pervasive means of communications (cell and sat phones now de rigueur) we have also lost in part a sense of freedom and certainly a large share of privacy in ‘going to sea.’ This is the unstoppable march of technological evolution, but we need not go down this route being forced to wear PFD’s at times when they are not warranted. To legislate or not the obligatory use of PFD’s and other safety devices is a judgment call, and it is a biggey.

Skip Novak

The Publisher

Sep 11, 2012, 6:06 PM

Post #22 of 27 (55605 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From David Tabor, Leesburg, VA:
For years I have been bemoaning the lack of basic skills in many areas of life, sailing being one of them. I see it at work (scary thought), and I see it every day when people can't parallel park a tiny Miata!

Basic skills are being forgotten, lost, ignored in all walks of life because things have been dumbed down. How many times have we heard of a boat running aground after the "skipper?" punched in a waypoint set the autopilot and took off? Oh yeah, that sandbar in between doesn't know or care how much money you spent on the fancy geewhiz box.

I see more and more middle aged couples enthusiastically taking up sailing and setting sail on 35, 40 or even 50 foot boats having never sailed a dinghy, reefing when going downwind because they don't understand the concept of apparent wind, (hey it's blowing 18 knots, better shorten sail) not knowing any knots other than a cleat hitch (usually wrong), a figure eight and a bowline (maybe). Because we all know if you want to tie two lines together just tie two bowlines; no need to know a bend or two.

Can they figure out how to make their own range using objects depicted on an actual CHART? Who has a paper chart anymore when we've got a chartplotter! I saw it years ago when a sailing organization I sailed with decided to spend money on putting a Lectra-san toilet on a boat that was only occasionally used overnight, but balked at replacing running rigging and other useful items that got used every time the boat went out.

And racers too are not immune; I've sailed with some people who were really good at making that boat go fast, but trying to explain danger bearings in navigation to them or watching another boat attempt to anchor was a real eye opening treat. Years ago I did a distance race on a boat where the owner had not made up a watch schedule, did not conduct a damage control briefing and only when I said we really need to go over this was I told "hey, great can you take care of this, I've got to...." go do something.

Anyone who steps foot on a boat owes it to themselves and their crewmates to learn as much about everything related to sailing as possible. That means seamanship.

The Publisher

Sep 12, 2012, 6:33 AM

Post #23 of 27 (55471 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Mark Lammens:
Interesting old school concepts regarding self reliance. A life jacket is not about self reliance, it is about surviving the cold water shock response or staying afloat if you are separated from your boat. Larry Klein, World champion and very accomplished sailor could have had a better chance if he'd been wearing one. Do your kids wear seat belts or helmets when they ski and bike? It is about managing risks. I love my kids, they are very good skiers and swimmers, but when they are in the Zodiac or dinghy, I have them wear a quality stylish PFD.

The Publisher

Sep 13, 2012, 9:26 AM

Post #24 of 27 (55327 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From John McNeill:
I've been watching intently the postings regarding 'seamanship', as I
honestly believe that to be an important part of what has happened in
recent days. What occurred to me this morning though, is that it appears
that the definition of what seamanship is may be very complex and elusive,
and the acquisition of that skill equally as perplexing. Wikipedia says:
"Seamanship is the art of operating a ship or boat.

It involves a knowledge of a variety of topics and development of
specialized skills including: navigation and international maritime law;
weather, meteorology and forecasting; watchstanding; ship-handling and
small boat handling; operation of deck equipment, anchors and cables;
ropework and line handling; communications; sailing; engines; execution of
evolutions such as towing; cargo handling equipment, dangerous cargoes and
cargo storage; dealing with emergencies; survival at sea and search and
rescue; fire fighting.

The degree of knowledge needed within these areas is dependent upon the
nature of the work and the type of vessel employed by a mariner. However,
the practice of good seamanship should be the goal of all. The deep meaning
of the word seamanship derives from the word seaman & ship. Thus it is the
seaman who makes a good ship through his qualifications. Above all,
Seamanship means Safety onboard and this is managed through continuous
training and implementation of good working practices."

So, I would put to the community of sailors the following:
1) Just what is seamanship, in your opinion?
2) How does one acquire it? Or is that education ever complete?

The Publisher

Sep 13, 2012, 9:28 AM

Post #25 of 27 (55325 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

To: editor

So, I would put to the community of sailors the following:
1) Just what is seamanship, in your opinion? Seamanship is the acquired art of running, maintaining ,operating, decision making and sailing a sailing vessel, in all conditions. Seamanship is not the mere ability to make a sailing vessel go forwards using a set of sails, ropes and knots. It is the ability to make decisions based on experience of the prevailing conditions, to ensure the safety of the ship and it's crew, this is gained by acquiring knowledge through reading, practice and hands on experience, You never stop learning, the sea being the beguiling mistress she is, does not, and will not reveal all, to everyone.

2) How does one acquire it? Or is that education ever complete? NO, it's never complete, you can sail your whole life and you will always find something new to learn. It's the active combining of the knowledge read, experience gained and practical skills acquired, which yields seamanship

The Publisher

Sep 13, 2012, 4:54 PM

Post #26 of 27 (55300 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From: Rob McNeal
Subject: Seamanship

The best seamanship skill I know is the ability to know WHEN to NOT go out or to head back in. On my boat(s) we use the theory of the Number 1 Rule. The Number 1 Rule is it must be FUN. Therefore, if it doesn't look like the trip will be any fun then we don't go AND if it begins to look like it may no longer be fun in the near future then we head in.

One acquires Seamanship skills from one's own or other credible sailors experiences. In my case- those situations I and others had that were definately no fun.

The Publisher

Sep 13, 2012, 4:56 PM

Post #27 of 27 (55298 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Sailing - Personal Floatation Devices [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2012 11:54:22 -0700 (PDT)
From: Billy Roberts

I agree with John McNeils seamanship is a term that needs to be understood by all mariners. Since GPS and point and click navigation was started people seem to think they can go out in a boat and it is just like driving a car. Having no regards for right of way, the rules of the road or even simple weather observations. These are things that can be learned by reading but many things are learned by on the water experience.

As a captain I am always amazed by many boat owners lack of knowledge of seamanship but also the attitude that they all ready know every thing about boating. Being a licensed captain requires a lot more knowledge of seamanship and we are constantly increasing our knowledge but, as a weekend boater you should know the basics and know your local waters. At least learn what 5 knots or "no wake means". And that cell phones are not a great way to be found by rescue or towing services when they are needed.

Seamanship to me means knowing how to boat safely, how to deal with problems on the water, knowing the rules of the road and knowing how to use a VHF radio properly. These would be the minimum things. New boaters need to be instructed by professionals that can teach you the minimum seamanship needed to leave the slip and return safely.

Viewing the Forums: vijamof84, ryan9161, kevins and guests

Search for (options) Contact Forum Forum FAQS Markup Tags Forum Rules