Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Five Steps to Boarding a Boat Safely

Navigating begins at the dock, as in "navigating" your way onto the boat. This week, Captain John has a step-by-step guide to watching your step while boarding a sailboat...

Guest blog by Captain John
Author of Seamanship Secrets and publisher of the popular boating education website

Shoes, lines, wires, rails, fenders and a little weather can make boarding a boat a challenge for even experienced crew. 
Photo © Nautical Sites Media

Did you know that something as simple as boarding or de-boarding a boat can lead to accidents? Matter of fact, several years ago this happened to me.

I had sailing gear in both hands, tried to board a sailboat one early morning, and slipped on the dew-soaked boat deck. There I was, hanging over the side like a human fender! Lucky for me, the skipper was there to help me aboard.

Before you board any boat—power or sail—look for the lowest area along the sheer line (the line from bow to stern where the hull and deck meet).

Not all boats have open gates in the lifeline area for boarding. Nor do all boats dock stern-to. On some vessels, you may have no choice but to board near the bow. Follow these five steps no matter what type of boarding arrangement exists. ...

1. Bring the boat close alongside
Adjust the lines so that the boarding area has minimum space between the pier and water. Use an extra breast line (a breast line is a nautical term for any line that leads perpendicular to the boat's centerline) to hold the boat tight to the pier. Run the breast line from a cleat near the beam of the boat out to a piling or dock cleat. Take all of the slack out of the breast line so that the boat doesn't move.

2. Leave provisions and bags on the pier
If you are with another person, place all bags or provisions on the pier so that you have both hands free. This includes backpacks, purses, boxes, bags, or duffle-bags. If alone, slide these items onto the deck.

3. Grab and brace with rails or shrouds
Hold on to a shroud or rail with your dominant hand. Use this hand to pull yourself up onto the boat. As soon as possible, brace yourself with your non-dominant hand. Plant both feet on the outboard edge of the boat for balance. Swing your legs over the lifelines one at a time.

4. Load provisions
The remaining crew on the pier passes all provisions to the first crew aboard. This way, all of the sailing gear gets loaded before the rest of the crew boards. Move the provisions onto the cabin trunk to clear a path for the sailing crew to board.

5. Board the crew and make a "pass-down" line
Assist the remaining crew in boarding safely. As they board, ask them to form a line back to the cockpit. When the last crew member boards, send the provisions down the "pass-down" line and pile them into the cockpit. Follow this same procedure to move the provisions and bags from the cockpit down to the cabin.

Getting OFF the boat
When de-boarding (moving from the boat to the pier), reverse the procedure. Start with step 5 and work back to step 1. The first person off the boat rigs a breast line (if needed) to hold the de-boarding area close to the pier.

Pass on these five easy steps to your new sailing crew. This will keep your crew safer and get sailing gear and provisions aboard and stowed fast and easy.

Captain John teaches sailing skippers the no-nonsense cruising skills they need for safer sailing worldwide. Sign up for a FREE sailing tips newsletter at Become a member for instant access to 425+ articles, video tutorials, newsletters, and free eBooks.


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