Avoid common sailing injuries

By Anthony Pozun

A sailboat’s many working parts combined with its movement can result in sailing injuries and accidents, but you can avoid them with a little planning and forethought.

Don’t go overboard

Everyone on deck should wear a personal flotation device. Those alone on deck, at the helm or sailing single-handedly must also wear a safety harness tethered to the boat.

When moving about, remember the adage “one hand for me, one hand for the boat.” Move slowly, low to the deck and with purpose. To retrieve someone from the water, boats should have safety equipment such as a man overboard pole, life ring, throw ring, floating cushion, hoist and lifejackets with GPS locators.

Be aware of the boom at all times. A swinging boom could cause serious injury or sweep someone overboard. Prevent mishaps by not standing up or moving about: Listen to the captain’s commands during tacks and jibes, and move about only as needed.

Watch your step

Trips and falls can cause injuries ranging from contusions to serious fractures. Wear sturdy shoes, boat shoes or sneakers (no sandals, flip-flops, loose footwear or bare feet). Move about with caution and purpose. Consider covering danger areas with protective foam or highlighting them with bright colors or decals.

Avoid sudden stops

Colliding with an object, boat, fixed dock or sandbar can stop the boat suddenly and throw people about, causing injuries ranging from contusions, abrasions and fractures to concussions and worse. Always know your boat’s location and the water depth.

Watch for hazards, and prepare to avoid them. Use charts, maps, radar or sonar and previous knowledge. If you lack information about an area, slow down or stop, reassess the situation, and if necessary, radio for help. The U.S. Coast Guard, Tow BoatUS, Sea Tow, harbormasters and anglers have a wealth of local area information.

Cooking while underway

Cooking on a moving boat can also be hazardous. Hot water, steam, flames, moving surfaces, and shifting items can cause burns, cuts and other injuries. Before setting out, assess work areas for dangerous edges as well as appliances and items that may move about. Know the location of emergency gas shutoff switches and fire extinguishers and what to do in case of fire. While cooking, use handholds and tether yourself to prevent a fall.

Sailing is a working adventure in an environment with many moving parts and systems, which means that sailors must constantly assess and reassess their surroundings and actions to avoid serious injury.