safety advisory notice
These learning points supplement
our key safety messages: look after
yourself, have a plan, keep in touch
and know your limits. Together they
underpin our ethos of self-reliance
and responsibility for safety on board.
We hope that this, the fourth edition of the
Safety Advisory Notice, will add to your
knowledge and inspire you to think about your
own actions and abilities. The advice in this
Safety Advisory Notice is free to all who wish
to read it and the information it contains is
supported by considerable amounts of advice
on the RYA website and through our RYA
Training courses and publications.
Our purpose is simple: to promote and protect
safe, successful and rewarding British boating;
a safe mind set and learning from others are
vital if this is to be achieved.
All of us at the RYA hope that your time spent
boating is both safe and enjoyable.
Understand the sources of Carbon
Monoxide and the risks associated
with it, know how to recognise the
symptoms of poisoning and fit a
suitable alarm.
In 2014 we reported on the hazards of Carbon
Monoxide (CO) poisoning - an ever-present
risk whenever carbon based fuel is used for
propulsion, heating, lighting or cooking. This
followed a double fatality in the Lake District
which was investigated by the MAIB. Despite
considerable publicity about the dangers of
Carbon Monoxide, 2016 saw a couple die on
the Norfolk Broads and another owner died on
his motor boat in Cardiff later that year. All were
poisoned by CO produced by the boats’
petrol engines.
CO, often called the silent killer, is an invisible
odourless gas which cannot be detected with
the human senses and is produced any time a
fuel containing carbon is burnt such as petrol,
natural gas, oil, propane, coal or wood. CO
can overwhelm quickly; less than 2% of CO in
air has an immediate effect and can kill in 1-3
minutes. For that reason CO detectors activate
an alarm at very low concentration levels to give
a person time to react before being overcome.
Regrettably it appears that these are often
mistaken as false alarms rather than an early
warning of the danger and are switched off or
worse still disconnected from a power supply.
At low concentration levels of CO, the symptoms
of poisoning are similar to flu or food poisoning.
Headaches, nausea and dizziness are common.
As the concentration of CO increases, you may
suffer chest pains and breathlessness leading
to seizure or unconsciousness. If the levels are
high enough, CO will kill you. Carbon monoxide
poisoning can be especially dangerous for those
who are sleeping or intoxicated.
The message is quite clear – understand the
dangers of Carbon Monoxide and recognise the
symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Fit an
alarm that complies with BS EN50291-2:2010
and if it sounds get out of the boat and into the
fresh air immediately – get wise, get alarmed,
get out.
Finally it is worth remembering that even if you
do not have anything on your boat that might
produce Carbon Monoxide; you are not immune
from CO sources nearby. There may be a petrol
engine at idle up wind of your mooring.
More information on the dangers of Carbon
Monoxide can be found at
Cold Water Shock is a cause of
death that many people fail to
appreciate. Adequate clothing and
a lifejacket will help you to survive
long enough to be recovered.
When the body is suddenly immersed in cold
water it experiences a number of physiological
responses that can rapidly incapacitate
and even kill. The sudden lowering of skin
temperature is one of the most profound stimuli
that the body can encounter. As blood vessels
contract, increases in heart rate and blood
pressure may result in cardiac arrest even in
people who are in good health. At the same time
a “gasp” response may result in water being
inhaled into the lungs and your breathing rate
may increase by as much as tenfold.
This is a condition known as Cold Water Shock
(CWS), it causes involuntary body reactions that
can be as swift as they are deadly. The ability
to swim well has no impact on these responses.
It is far deadlier than Hypothermia, yet far less
understood by boaters in general.
Hypothermia kills over time as heat is conducted
away from the body leading to a gradual decline
in body core temperature and loss of swimming
ability, unconsciousness and ultimately death.
Conversely, most people who are susceptible
to CWS die in the first minute of immersion.
Sudden cold water immersion drastically
reduces your ability to hold your breath typically
from a minute or so to less than 10 seconds.
Cold water in your ears can cause vertigo
resulting in disorientation.
CWS is a danger in water below 15°C; that’s
more or less the summertime average around
the coast of the UK. It is therefore important to
think carefully about the clothing you wear and
protection from the cold – a dry suit will provide
additional protection, particularly in very cold
water. CWS coupled with the shock of going
over the side may well contribute to a feeling of
panic as you struggle to stay afloat; this will be
far easier to overcome if you are wearing
a lifejacket. The key to surviving cold shock
is being alert to the symptoms and acting
quickly to protect your airway and conserve
your strength.
If you ever recover someone from the water,
they may seem okay, but might be susceptible
to secondary drowning where any water
entering the lungs can cause a condition called
pulmonary oedema. This can happen within
1 to 24 hours after an incident in the water.
Symptoms to look out for are coughing, chest
pain, troubled breathing, tiredness and irritability.
A close eye may need to be kept on the person
after an incident in case of delayed symptoms.
More information on looking after yourself can
be found at 5
Think carefully before clipping on.
The optimum length of your safety line
will vary dependent on the size of the
boat and where you need to attach it
for the task in hand.
A safety line connects your safety harness
(often integrated into a lifejacket) to a strong
point on your boat. Safety lines (sometimes
called tethers) have been the focus of some
attention recently following a number of fatalities
where crew were not clipped on, however, even
when clipped on, accidents can still happen if
you do not do so intelligently.
Safety lines are only intended to give reasonable
assurance that you will remain attached to the
boat; prevention from actually falling into the
water is clearly dependent on where you attach
it and the length of the safety line.
Movement must be balanced with the risk of
falling overboard. Safety lines need to be long
enough to let you move around the boat or to
carry out the task at hand, but not so long that
it will allow you to fall overboard. If you are
expecting to change headsails on the bow of a
sailing boat where the deck is narrow then you
might well need to clip on with a short safety line
or the odds are that you will end up over the side
if you trip, fall or are hit by a wave. Similarly, in
such a situation it’s better to clip on to the high
side of the boat rather than the low side, thus
minimizing the fall distance.
A common solution that provides a choice
between longer and shorter safety lines is
a mid-point hook. This combination also allows
the user to change the clip-on point without
being detached from the boat and it provides a
shorter safety line to hand when one is needed.
There are a number of safety lines available
on the market with a mid-point hook: our advice
is to think about where you intend to clip on
and choose the right length of safety line. In the
event that a crew member does go overboard
whilst still attached be sure to bring the boat
to an immediate stop to prevent the casualty
from drowning.
More information on safety lines can be can
be found at
Consider carefully the type of rope
used for specific tasks. Knots,
hitches and splices in High Modulus
Polyethylene (HMPE) rope will reduce
its strength, possibly by up to 80% of
the maximum breaking strain.
HMPE rope such as Spectra® and Dyneema®
has a high tensile strength for its weight and
good resistance to chemicals and Ultra Violet
light – all of which make it great for boating but
there is a drawback, HMPE does not tolerate
tight bends which reduce the strength of the
rope. Knots, hitches and splices, although
unavoidable, reduce HMPE strength more than
other type of rope, and a simple overhand knot
which produces a very tight curve typically
reduces it by as much as 80%.
There is no easy answer to this. If you have
purchased 10mm HMPE rope with a breaking
strain of 5000Kg then you might be surprised
if it fails under a load of 1750Kg at the point
where you have tied a knot or bent the line
around a fixing point. The advantages of buying
something that is lightweight and strong might
simply not be up to the task you bought it for
once you have put a knot in it.
when buying shackles etc. that at a D/d of 2:1
the breaking strength is typically 65% of the
maximum. At a D/d of 1:1 the breaking strain
reduces to 50% of maximum.
Either use oversized rope to achieve the
strength required or increase the diameter
of the fixing point to which it is to be attached.
Finally, splices should be used for HMPE in
preference to knots.
More information on personal safety can be
found at
The industry uses a formula to express the
tightness of the curve called the D/d ratio based
on the diameter of the fixing around which the
rope is bent (D) and the rope diameter (d).
Typically a D/d ratio in the region of at least
8:1 is required to maintain 100% of its strength.
The D/d in a recent incident involving HMPE
was 0.89:1 or a little over 10% of that required
to maintain maximum strength.
If you are going to buy HMPE for sheets,
halyards and control lines then it is inevitable
that you will need to fasten it to something such
as a shackle. It is worth seeking advice from a
rigger to discuss your intentions and remember
Wearing a sailing helmet may be
beneficial in reducing the risk of
blunt trauma head injury in a high
performance environment but for the
less experienced, it could lead to a
greater chance of injury if the hazards
are not understood.
Safety equipment has evolved over time to
deliver optimal performance. ISO standards have
been developed to ensure equipment performs
as it should, but that is not true for all equipment
and we all need to be aware of the dangers of
using equipment which has not been specifically
designed and tested for a specific purpose.
The use of helmets in sport is common
place; cricketers, rugby players, cyclists,
skiers, kayakers and F1 drivers all wear
them. However, crucially, these helmets are
specifically designed and tested according to
the impacts of different types of sports, so a
rugby cap is not intended to be worn by a
cyclist or kayaker.
America’s Cup sailors don crash helmets, in
addition to body armour and oxygen, to protect
them from high speed capsizes. However,
each competing boat is also followed closely
by chase boats carrying scuba divers, doctors
and support personnel to provide immediate
assistance in case of capsize.
At the moment there is no specific standard
for sailing helmets. If you use a helmet that is
inappropriate you may expose yourself to injury
in other ways that detract from the original
purpose of wearing it in the first place. In case
of inversion, there is a possibility that a helmet
could increase the risk of entrapment or increase
any disorientation experienced by a sailor in
trying to free themselves. Dinghy sailors mostly
wear buoyancy aids that do not support the
neck and head when unconscious in the water.
An unconscious sailor in the water may be
more prone to floating face down.
Whilst a helmet may not reduce visibility, it may
impinge on the situational awareness of the sailor
and could subsequently add to an increased risk
of an accident. There also is potential for neck
strain if there is a sudden deceleration of the
boat even without an impact; whiplash could be
exaggerated by the weight of the helmet.
More research is required on this rapidly evolving
issue within our sport. However, as with any
aspect of boating it is important that if you feel a
helmet may be appropriate for the boating you are
doing you should first assess what it is that you
are trying to achieve, whether the intended helmet
is fit for purpose and what other measures may
be appropriate either instead of or as well as a
helmet. Boom heights, the potential speed of the
craft and conditions in which you will be sailing are
examples of factors you need to consider.
More information on personal safety equipment
can be found at
Nearly 25% of all lifeboat call-outs are to
machinery failure, lack of fuel and to fouled
propellers. Only 10% of lifeboat call-outs are to
people in distress and just over 3% of launches are
because of adverse weather. Mechanical failure
is the single biggest cause of rescue call-outs to
sailing and motor cruisers and accounts for nearly
20% of all lifeboat launches. If you know how to
fix common problems and how to carry out basic
maintenance and engine care, you can avoid
becoming part of this statistic.
Most engine problems can be avoided by taking
simple precautions which do not require detailed
mechanical knowledge or training. The RYA
Diesel Maintenance Course is designed to help
you look after your boat and to give you the
confidence to become more self-reliant. The
course teaches you how your engine works,
how to keep it healthy by using basic checks
and maintenance procedures, and how to get
it started again in the event of a breakdown.
Whether you sail a yacht with an auxiliary diesel
engine or are a motor cruising enthusiast, the
course could not just save you money, but one
day could save your life.
We are still concerned that many boaters do
not tell anyone where they are going, what time
they plan to get there or who is on board. In the
majority of cases, things work out as intended
but occasionally they do go wrong: Estimated
Times of Arrival are missed and quite possibly
you might need rescuing. Without an idea of
what your intentions are, the search in search
and rescue becomes a real challenge.
Telling someone what you are doing used to
be a challenge for any small boat user, canoer,
kayaker, wind or kite surfers; contacting the
Coastguard in the event of distress was equally
problematic. For that reason we have introduced
RYA SafeTrx. The App is free to download and
there is no charge to use it. RYA SafeTrx records
your details, ETA and tracks your trip. The app
will automatically alert a nominated contact if
the trip goes overdue and your sail plan will
be available to the Coastguard if search and
rescue has to be activated. The app contains
a considerable number of useful functions and
useful port and marina information. As absolute
minimum, make sure someone ashore knows
where you are going and when you plan to be
back before going afloat.
More information about RYA Diesel
Maintenance Courses, RYA SafeTrx and a
whole range of safety topics is easily accessible
at; we review and update
the information frequently.
RNLI 2015 Operational Statistics (2016 edition still being
compiled at the time SAN 2017 went to print).
023 8060 4100 | |
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