What, and how much safety gear to carry is one of the toughest questions to answer. What is right depends on your budget, risk tolerance, space available, and where you’re headed. It is easily possible to spend a very large chunk of freedom chips on this category of gear. And this is against the background that it will probably never be used!
We’ve recently been going through this process ourselves. In our case, we’ve got plenty of room on the new boat (83 feet). But just because we have the space, and can afford this gear, does not mean we are going to carry every possible item!
Here’s our approach. Easy gear first.
A 406Mgh EPIRB is #1 on our list. If we get into difficulty (which includes a medical emergency) this piece of gear is worth its weight in gold. The only question in our minds is one or two units. The safest approach is to have one in the life raft, if there is a raft aboard, and a second easily accessible near the grab bag. We’re still undecided as to which or how many units to go for.
The next question is the life raft. Given the fact that we’ve got a metal hull, double bottom, and watertight bulkheads, the risks of getting into a raft are minimal. The only scenario we can see that would force us off the boat would be a fire. We’re careful with our electrical fusing, but there’s still a risk. The other major risk, collision, is well within our ability to control, so this does not rate highly amongst our reasons to get a raft.
Prior to EPIRBs our feeling was that a well prepared dinghy made a better life boat than a raft, and gave you the ability to get somewhere. But with the EPIRBs the equation changes. There’s a good chance someone will find you. Still, for most cruising, a properly prepared dinghy will do almost as good a job as a raft. The one problem could be capsize in waves, which should be less of a risk in a good raft.
On the new boat we’re going to carry a raft. We’ve got the space, and for some of the areas of the world where we’ll be heading, exposure can quickly become deadly. We’ve chosen a Switlik raft, with a toroidal ballast chamber. We’ve also specified a double interior bottom, with insulation. But if we weren’t going to the cold country, we’d probably just use our dinghy.
With the raft goes a ditch bag, the details of which are a separate subject. Suffice it to say the ditch bag supplements the supplies packed into the raft, and is based on the concept that we’ll be spending several weeks floating around. This bag will include six 25mm SOLAS flares along with smoke signals. The raft will have an additional six SOLAS flares as well.
A related category of safety gear are fire extinguishers. We’ve got one in the galley, one in each stateroom, and large and small ones at the door to the engine room and within the engine room. We also carry smoke hoods to allow us some time below fighting the fire.
We’ve thought about exposure suits in the past and decided against them. These are carried, in one form or the other, by most commercial fishermen, both for work and emergencies. We are going to take a hard look at the work type suits, to use in the dinghy and when going ashore in the higher latitudes.
We look at man overboard gear in two contexts. The first is finding the person. The second is getting them back aboard. We’ll carry a Life-Sling, as we have done in the past, to use with recovery. There will be a tackle on the aft end of the boat, connected to the breakwaters, with which one of us can hoist the other if the person in the water is incapacitated. As far as locating systems go, there is an entire new generation of personal EPIRBs and locator receivers available. We need to look into this category of gear more closely. On Beowulf we carried a MOM inflatable pylon and ring system. We’re not sure if we’ll do this on the new boat. While this gear is compact, it is hard to beat the old fashioned weighted pole, drogue, and horseshoe with light for a basic marking system. All of these systems depend on someone launching them, which is unlikely to happen with a two person crew.
The best bet is to stay on board! Towards this end we have jack stays around the boat, and never leave the cockpit without being hooked on. Harnesses are very much a personal choice. But look at the design, and how they support you when you are being held by them over the side.