Disabled Sailing Association of Ontario

Tips & Techniques

Sailing is a very safe sport as long as you use good judgement and obey a few basic safety rules. When you first start out, you should sail under the supervision of a qualified instructor who can ensure that the sailing area is safe and the conditions suitable.

In sailing, there are five principle hazards you should know about: drowning, cold (hypothermia), electric shock, overheating and sunburn. Here\'s how to protect yourself from them:

The Boat as Safe Refuge

Safety Rule #1
Always stay with your boat, even if it breaks down or capsizes.

It's important to remember that even a small sailboat can very quickly take you far from land - much too far to swim back if you get into difficulties.

Think of your boat as a kind of space capsule that\'s designed and equipped to protect you from the dangers of cold and deep water. Even if swamped (filled with water) or capsized (tipped on its side), any properly equipped small sailboat has enough sealed-in flotation to keep it from sinking. This flotation is usually provided by waterproof air tanks within the hull or by inflatable air bags beneath the seats.

Dressing for Safety and Comfort

Safety Rule #2
Wear an approved PFD or life jacket whenever you\'re on or around boats.

Your second line of defence while sailing is your PFD or Personal Floatation Device, which should be worn at all times. Many types have been tested by the Canadian Department of Transport (DOT), so you should be sure that the one you\'re using bears a DOT-approved label for a person of your weight. Also be sure your PFD isn\'t ripped or otherwise damaged.

For rugged conditions when large waves are present, DOT-approved Life Jackets are safer than PFDs because their high, buoyant collars keeps a person floating face up, even if unconscious. However, for most inshore sailing, an approved PFD is entirely adequate and quite a bit more comfortable.


Safety Rule #3
Dress warmly for sailing and wear appropriate waterproof garments when conditions warrant them.

Even on a warm summer day, it's likely to be surprisingly cool out on the water, particularly if there\'s a good breeze blowing. Dress warmly (or carry extra clothing), especially when the air temperature is below 21°C or the water temperature is below 18°C. Generally, it\'s best to \"overdress\" because you can always take something off if you get too warm. A waterproof jacket or foul-weather gear are very helpful because it\'s surprisingly easy to get chilled when your clothes become wet.

Advanced sailors often wear foam rubber wet suits similar to the ones that divers use, or special dry suits which are made of waterproof material and have flexible seats at the neck, sleeves and ankles. However, as long as you\'re only sailing in good weather and under supervision, it isn\'t necessary to buy this costly gear.

Electric Shock Hazards

Safety Rule #4
Before setting up a boat and wheeling it down to the water, always check that there isn\'t an overhead electric cable in the way. Look out for low-hanging power lines while sailing,and come in immediately if thunder clouds develop.

Believe it or not, many of the most serious small boating accidents took place before the boat even reached the water! How? By allowing the mast to touch an overhead power cable. If this happens, a powerful jolt of electricity may travel down the mast and through the bodies of sailors who are touching the boat.

Out on the water, the same thing can happen if lightning strikes the boat, or if you sail into a power cable that hangs low over the water. Be on the lookout for overhead cables and return to shore at once if there are thunderstorms in the vicinity.

Sunburn, Eye Damage and Overheating

Safety Rule #5
Protect your skin and eyes from the damaging effects of too much sunlight.
Drink plenty of liquids on hot days and watch for signs of heat exhaustion

The combination of long hours in the sun and reflective water puts sailors at serious risk when it comes to sunburn. Young sailors often disregard the danger, but too much sunlight has now been linked to serious skin damage and skin cancer. Don\'t take chances. Wear a hat with a brim and protect exposed skin with a transparent waterproof sunblock (minimum SPF 15), or better yet, zinc oxide cream. Long sleeved shirts and pants are also a good idea, especially during peak sun periods (10 AM to 3 PM).

Our eyes are particularly vulnerable to sun damage, so good quality sunglasses with UV absorbent lenses are a sailing must. To avoid losing them overboard, they should be secured with a string or elastic strap behind the head.

Illness from excessive sun and heat may occur during hot, windless days on the water. To avoid trouble, take drinks along, keep your head covered, and return to shore if you develop a headache, faintness, nausea or excessive sweating.


Taken from the book "Basic Sailing Skills", by Sven Donaldson.
Used with permission by the Canadian Yachting Association.

DSAO - Disabled Sailing Association of Ontario DSAO is a family of organizations that promote and enable Ontarians with disabilities to experience therapeutic, recreational and social rehabilitation through the freedom of independent sailing. DSAO's objective is to build the sport of disabled sailing, assist with athlete development and sustain international competitive excellence. DSAO - Disabled Sailing Association of Ontario
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