We think that most of the activities to do with cruising are very safe, especially compared to urban life. Of the risks we do face, we consider setting off in the dinghy to be the highest. This was brought home seven years ago at Nantucket Island, on the East Coast of the US.
We’d gone ashore for an early movie and exited to thick fog. Beowulf was anchored about half a mile from the village docks, and was lost in the mist. We would have spent the night ashore but this was the height of summer and there was nary a room to be had. We considered sleeping on the park benches, but it was wet and cold. So we felt our way through the anchorage, realized we were lost, and made it back to the marina. The second time we tried we found ourselves heading to sea out the entrance channel. For the third attempt we enlisted the aid of the shoreboat which was equipped with a compass, GPS, and of course VHF.
This experience lead us to think back to all the places we have been with our dinks and the trouble we could have gotten into if something had gone wrong. As a result, we put together a series of emergency kits to be stowed in the dinghy, depending on the risk scenario. The local use kit (above) is always with us.
It contains basic tools, spare spark plugs, a hand starter cord for the outboard, small 406 EPIRB, GPS, and VHF. We also carry a spare prop (no shown) in case the hub on the outboard prop becomes damaged.
There is also a signaling kit carried in the locker forward.
Of course we have a set of oars, anchor, and 200 foot (60m) rode.
Our next instance of dinghy clarity came on a beautiful day of exploration in an isolated part of British Columbia. We had our grab bag, but nobody would hear us on VHF, and even the EPIRB might go unnoticed for a while. So we purchased a waterproof back pack and loaded it with gear and supplies that would help us survive in the wilderness. This included a tarp, ground cloth, compact saw and fire starting items, bug and bear spray, and a variety of warm clothes, food, and water. There are prescription meds and fishing gear appropriate for use ashore and afloat.
You only need to spend a couple of minutes in a life raft in harbor to realize this is not a good place if there is an alternate plan. Although we do carry a raft, our first choice for abandoning ship would be a prepared dinghy. Assuming a sea state which makes this practical – and that is typical what we cruise in – the dinghy offers mobility to close with another vessel, or the shore.
Three years ago we had a boom tent made.
The tent stores rolled up along the gunnel. It will provide some protection from the elements, hot or cold.
We also now carry a drogue to be used off the bow if required.
Abandon ship supplies are tied into the dinghy as well. In addition to the grab bag, dinghy flares, and waterproof back pack, we add
a container of SOLAS parachute flares and a waterproof duffel bag with longer term survival gear.This adds food, clothing appropriate to the climate, additional meds and personal hygiene supplies.
We also make sure there are always two full gas tanks loaded on board as well as 20 liters of water.
If the dink is to be used as a life raft then there has to be a means of launching it under duress. Our assumption has always been that if we have to leave the mother ship it will be as a result of a fire. In this case the odds are the electric winch normally used for hoisting will not work. For this reason there is no stanchion outboard of the dink. The aft end of the life line wires are lashed so the lashing can be cut free. Getting rid of the lifelines means the dink needs just a small hoist with the manual winch to get it overboard.
There is one item we have left for the end, a small backup outboard permanently mounted on the dinghy. If our trusty Yamaha were to fail us a long ways from home, it would be nice to have a plan which did not involve rowing or calling for help. However, the logistics of a second small outboard coupled with 21 years of trouble free experience with our 30HP Yamahas has lead us to defer on a back up.