Safety on a sailboat involves a wide range of activities and the use of important safety gear and equipment.
First, be sure you understand the Rules of the Road to avoid collisions with other boats.
Ensure that your boat has all government required safety equipment on board.
Use a safety checklist to check boat gear and equipment and to orient guests and crew before heading out.
If you’re not sure you have all the knowledge and skills you need for safe boating, check this list of safety topics included in boating safety courses to see you have any gaps to fill.
Do you know when most sailing accidents and fatalities actually occur? It's probably not when you think - the worst accidents often occur when it's calm and you you're not worried about a problem. Learn how to adopt a safety attitude that may save your life.
Use a float plan to alert rescuers in an emergency.
Be sure you and your crew wear a PFD at appropriate times, since falling off the boat is the leading cause of boating fatalities. Your PFD is one of the two most essential pieces of safety equipment.
Using a safety harness tether in rough weather and when sailing solo helps ensure you stay on the boat no matter what. Using jacklines gives you an effective way to stay clipped on to the boat with your tether.
And in case someone does fall overboard, you need to know (and should practice in advance) an effective method for quickly turning the boat around and stopping it beside the person. Learn and practice one of these crew-overboard (COB) maneuvers.
If you sail offshore or even in coastal areas at night or when there's fog, install an inexpensive AIS system on your boat to avoid collisions with ships.
When boating in cold water, or even when only the air is cold, it's particularly critical to take special precautions because you may have only minutes to react - and because hypothermia rapidly affects both judgment and physical capabilities.
Having guests aboard your boat can present special risks, especially if they are unfamiliar with the boat and sailing and would not know what to do if an emergency occurs.
Good sailors seek safe harbor when severe weather threatens. Be sure to use available resources to know what the weather is like out there before you head out as well as what’s coming once you are underway. Also learn how to use the traveler and other sail adjustments for strong winds in order to stay safe.
Safety can also involve good navigation skills to avoid dangerous areas. Using a chartplotter is an easy way to know precisely where you are and where you’re headed at all times so that you can avoid these dangers.
The better your boating skills overall, the safer you will be while sailing. While not on the water, reading a good book on seamanship is an excellent way to improve your knowledge and skills. And the Safe Skipper - Safety Afloat app has lots of good information about staying safe on a boat and what to do if an emergency occurs.