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Making the Safe Choices


Safety equipment is often mandatory by law according to boat size, type and flag. In 1948 the United Nations created the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a permanent body that deals with maritime safety; signatory countries adopt laws according to rules and regulations drawn up by the IMO.

Leisure boats need a limited number of safety items, while a large yacht is subject to strict regulations for mandatory safety equipments. Those costs can be orders of magnitude higher. “A large yacht needs a Fire & Safety Plan where all devices are clearly indicated, deck by deck. All items undergo expensive periodical survey according to the yacht’s classification,” says P.S. Captain of a 50-meter motor yacht.

Bleeding-Edge Electronic Devices

“To safely run a yacht we adopt bleeding-edge electronic devices. Automatic radar plotting aids, AIS/transponders, thermal-imaging cameras, echo-sounders and redundant GPS units are all meant to minimize risk in all navigational situations.”

Courtesy of Ray Marine

Courtesy of Ray Marine

The newest chartplotters with super-bright, multifunction touchscreens come with built-in GPS receiver and Wi-Fi access to constantly update charts. Sonar technology provides forward-looking, two-dimensional sonar views of the bottom depth ahead of the yacht – a powerful defense against running aground and an invaluable tool for locating secure sites to drop anchor.

“Within the sphere of e-navigation, sophisticated integrated bridge configurations have been developed,” says Captain P.S. “Integrated navigation systems allow to keep under control all technical equipment very easily, so I’d include them in the safety equipment list, too. It’s hard to keep up with technological progress, this is why I usually attend training courses and trade shows.”

Integrated Bridge Systems combine systems and functions, offering a centralized access and monitoring of various navigational tools. They make it possible to monitor operations, communication, machinery, safety and security; they generally include autopilot, radar, gyro, steering gear, electronic chart displays and information system.

A New Generation of Lifejackets

By adopting ultra-light, super-resistant materials, a new generation of lifejackets and life rafts is now available, while state-of-the-art electronic devices allow for affordable communication/safety items.

“Finding your way through thousands of similar products needs a careful approach,” says Leonardo Zuccaro, professional skipper and general manager of Marina Dorica, one of the largest marinas on the Italian Adriatic coast, with over 1,200 berths. “Our advice is to focus only on internationally reputed companies with a strong technical background. Maybe you will spend more but what you get are long-lasting products and after-sale assistance.”

Maybe you will spend more but what you get are long-lasting products and after-sale assistance.

Small, Thin and Flexible

Courtesy of Spinlock

Courtesy of Spinlock

Starting with familiar items like lifejackets, the latest innovations involve materials, weight and dimensions. “The most advanced lifevests are small, thin and flexible. Some are built right into technical clothing. A great choice are inflatable life vests that are light and compact as a scarf until they hit water.” Zuccaro says.

Automatic inflation works by the controlled release of carbon dioxide. Lifejackets with a water-sensitive activation system use either a compressed paper capsule that dissolves when wet and then releases a spring to puncture the CO2 cylinder, or are activated by water pressure. Many automatic inflating harnesses are equipped with flashing lights, PLB or EPIRB.

Personal AIS Devices

“A man overboard is the worst fear for a skipper, but today, personal beacons and MOB individual alarms are available,” says G.P. skipper aboard a 39.95-meter J-Class replica. “During offshore navigation and sail races, particularly at night, crew members should constantly carry a personal AIS device, and a ‘LifeTag wireless Man Overboard’ system that launches a sound alarm instantly if somebody falls overboard.

With a view to increasing safety and convenience, during sailing races we frequently wear sleeveless jackets capable of providing the same buoyancy as a 50N lifejacket. Buoyancy is obtained by using closed-cell polyethylene strips, which are filled with air and microbeads.”

Highly Reliable Liferafts

“Brands like Spinlock, Onyx, Plastimo, Tribord, Lalizas, Baltic Safety Products, SeaCurity and Ocean Safety master state-of-the-art production of life vests and some of them produce also highly reliable life rafts. R&D departments are constantly working on developing new products,” reports one of the technical manager.

Offshore life rafts have indeed undergone some impressive improvements in these last few years. From lighter fabric for the buoyancy tubes through the use of new cylinders for the inflation of the rafts, it is possible to reach major weight savings.” Dimensions of valises and canisters have also been reduced allowing easier storing and handling.

I can’t help but underline how much electronics changed my life as a sailor.

“Thinking on safety on board I can’t help but underline how much electronics changed my life as a sailor,” says G.K., who took part in several Volvo Ocean Races. “Alongside renowned brands such as Furuno, Mc Murdo, Simrad, Kannad, Ocean Signal always at the forefront of innovation – I’m not linked to any of them – there are small yet reliable companies that develop systems ruggedized for safety applications based on ‘commercial off-the-shelf’ products. By doing so, they can offer equipment that are competitive and affordable on any budget.”




About the Author

Maria Roberta Morso is a freelance yachting journalist based in Italy.

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