The Cruising Life: $afety $tuff $ucks

Trish Lambert

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I feel a rant coming on. This is one of those things that makes me pound my fists and drum my heels, but that I have no choice about. Which makes it even more frustrating.

I was immersed in the subject of cruising gear while writing my third booklet in the Take Her Sailing Cruising Series. I had just finished writing about life rafts, man/crew overboard systems, and EPIRBs, all the while reflecting on how expensive it is to fit out with stuff you hope you'll never use. As if telepathic, Skip picked this time to tell me it is time to get the life raft repacked.

Dang! I hate dealing with a life raft repack. It means spending a minimum of $500 for someone to test the raft, plus whatever it will cost to replenish outdated flares and such. AND, if the raft doesn't pass minimum requirements, it will be unceremoniously scrapped, we will still owe the money, and we will be faced with having to purchase another raft. Ugh.

Still, it has to be done. We are about to take the boat out onto the Gulf of Mexico, traveling from Tarpon Springs (Florida) to Fort Walton Beach (same state), and though I might be willing to venture out without a repacked raft, Skip is not. This is not a subject to argue about-if he wants to be certain that we have a working raft, I need to respect that. The issue of safety is as much psychological as physical, and if a member of the crew feels strongly about including certain features, I don't think it's good idea to enter into debate about it.

But the repacking issue always fans my internal fires over safety gear. Every time I have fitted out a cruising boat, I get into a stew about what I tend to think of as a very expensive life insurance policy. Actually, safety gear aboard a cruising boat is more like car safety features than insurance. I mean, passenger air bags and safety belts improve one's chances of survival rather than guarantee it. Same with comparable boat safety stuff.

Except boats aren't like cars. They don't automatically come equipped with safety gear, and the cost of adding appropriate gear ranges from, say, a couple of hundred dollars for life jackets, sufficient flares, and a horseshoe buoy to several thousands of dollars for raft, bluewater crew overboard system, EPIRB, personal flotation vests fitted with strobes, and so on. I know that it's money that needs to be spent, but it makes me upset. On the one hand, how much safety gear is enough, and how much will it really stack the deck in favor of survival? On the other hand, every time I think about not including appropriate (and expensive) safety gear on a boat, I think about how terrible it would be to need the stuff and not have it. And therein lies my conflict, which causes the drumming of heels and pounding of fists.

Wouldn't it be cool if safety gear actually DID come built in to a boat the way it does in a car? A life raft that automatically deploys the same way an airbag does in a car, a jackline system built in to the boat body, an EPIRB as part of the standard equipment. It still wouldn't avoid the periodic expense of update and maintenance, but at least the initial buy/not buy decision would be taken care of. Oh, okay, before you start pelting me with emails about the impracticality of this idea, let me dream about it for a little while!

Actually, that makes me wonder: If cars were the same as boats vis-à-vis safety gear, would I spend the money to add air bags, extra structural features in the body, and safety belts? Hmmmm. . . . . . good question!

Well, here's hoping the raft passes inspection (cha ching goes the sound of the cash register).

Trish Lambert has been a cruising sailor for over twenty years and a first mate three times, with three different skippers and three very different cruising styles. She knows first hand what makes cruising successful, and what she has to share may surprise you! Whether you are a skipper or first mate, a singlehander or part of a cruising couple, sail boater or power boater, Trish can help make your cruising dream a reality. Check out her site at for a wealth of cruising information.


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