Sailing Safety & Sea Survival Course

This weekend was a busy one. I have spent the last two days completing the Yachting Australia Sailing Safety and Sea Survival course.

The Australian Sailing Safety and Sea Survival course was developed following the fatalities of the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race. It has now been adopted by the ISAF world wide. The certificate awarded meets the eligibility requirements of section 6.01 of the World Sailing Offshore Special Regulations for Category 0, 1 and some Category 2 offshore races.

This course is an essential learning forum for anyone who takes to sea, whether by sail or motor vessel, or for professional or recreational reasons. The intensive two day course delivers  up-to-date information and current techniques and has a large practical component.

I undertook the course run by Genevieve White of Marine Safety works. Gen is a friendly, knowledgable person who quickly put the group at ease, and ensured the classroom sessions had a nice balance of teaching and participation. Importantly Genevieve has over 100,000NM of offshore racing experience including being a Navigator on the 2000-2001 Volvo Ocean Race. Sailing in the Volvo Ocean race is just about as hard core as it gets in the sailing world, so her credentials are solid.

The course covers a large amount of subjects to differing depths. For me, I had a handle on most of the theory covered, but it was an excellent refresher and I found myself reflecting more than once on how i know what is the right thing to do, but don’t always do it. It’s easy for complacency to creep in and along with it the “It won’t happen to me” mentality. Soberingly, out of the 21 participants 3 had been air lifted to safety off yachts that sunk or were in serious trouble. Ok, the course attracts racers more than cruisers, but just think about that for a second….15 % of the students had evacuated a yacht in anger!

The practical session includes each person getting hands on firing flares and spending 3 hours in the pool.

The pool session is incredibly worthwhile. You don your full wet weather gear, like jackets, hats, gloves and after a detailed briefing on the equipment jump in the pool. You inflate your lifejackets. You then deflate them and blow them up with your mouth – reassuringly, much easier than i imagined, which is great to know if you life jacket doesn’t deploy with it’s canister.

You are taught techniques to keep warm and how to manage large groups in the water. You also all get a chance to right and board a life raft un-assisted and then take turns helping each other in and out of the raft. The finale is all 21 participants in the pool. The lights are turned out and its pitch black. The Quantas pool replicates a torrential downpour and a very realistic scenario is created and chaos ensues. This is the point of the exercise and clearly demonstrates the need for training, organisation, leadership and above all else a chain of command and communication.

For anyone heading out to sea, this course is a must. The pool drills are eye opening to just how difficult things can get even in a controlled environment. They leave you very aware of the realities of finding yourself overboard, but more confident in your abilities to manage them.

I guess in short thought, you learn to stay on the boat – do everything you can to prevent falling in. Wear a life Jacket, fit a tether. Use them. If you do fall in the pool session gives you the knowledge and tools to stay calm in the immediate few minutes after falling over board and these first few minutes are so critical to longer term survival.

If you sail. Do the course.

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