“But what about storms?”
Non-sailors are like children, sometimes. They always want to focus on the worst-case scenario, the one-in-a-million chance, the bad stuff.
Which isn’t to suggest that emergencies never happen aboard – they certainly do, and could, and only a fool leaves the dock thinking “It won’t happen to me.” (IWHTM)
The important thing to keep in mind is that emergencies and accidents happen. Life is a risky business. What matters is how you manage risks and prepare for emergencies, giving fate a fighting chance for a happy outcome. Which brings me to today’s topic – “Emergency equipment” – and also to my favorite pet peeve – the over-selling of technology as a “guarantee” of safety.
No matter where you look in the world of cruising writing, you’ll be bombarded with stories of potential disaster, descriptions of equipment that “would have prevented…”, and lists of all the gear each trusting cruiser has decided they must have on their boat before they can cast off the lines and go.
Now in one way I think that’s good. At least these folks aren’t in the ICHTM camp with their heads in the proverbial sand, counting on the Coast Guard to come bail them out if the poop hits the sails. On the other hand, unless you have an unlimited budget there’s a very real risk that you’ll discover you never feel “ready”.
Boats are expensive even in their simplest form. Not to buy, necessarily (though that can be very expensive too if you insist on new and improved), but certainly maintaining a boat takes a great deal of time and energy and – even for a simple boat – a fair amount of money. Add complexity and size (which the industry and fear-mongers would have you believe equates to “safety”) and the expense factor goes up logarithmically. Really – that’s not an exaggeration. I’ve seen data showing that going from a 30′ boat to a 40′ vessel can easily double both the acquisition and upkeep costs.
So how do you keep things under control? I believe you re-think your definition of what safety means, and change your relationship to “Emergency Equipment”.
Here’s a quick pop quiz to get you thinking:
Question: What is the single most important item of safety equipment on any boat?
Answer: A fit, well-trained crew.
Bear with me for a moment while I tangent.
I was an airline pilot in my former life, flying passengers around the north eastern US. The airlines really, really want to run a safe operation, because the result of any incident is a firestorm of media attention, even if the actual risk to the safety of operation was nil. So how do the airlines spend most of their safety budgets?
They spend it on training. Thousands and thousands of hours a year and many millions of dollars are spent on crew training; drilling and practicing procedures and techniques that – chances are – will NEVER be applied in the real world. Why? Because if that one-in-a-million event happens, the chances are high that it’s something the crew has already seen and practiced. They pull out the checklist, run the procedure, and land the plane. No drama, no story. Just a few disappointed reporters.
And in fact, even if the issue they face isn’t something that was foreseen and trained for ahead of time, good training also improves a crew’s ability to improvise, to think on their feet.
For example: On January 15th, 2009, USAirways Flight 1549 departed LaGuardia airport in New York City, and lost power in both engines due to ingesting birds shortly after takeoff. For the record, pilots practice (in a simulator) the sudden loss of power on ONE engine so much that we could pretty much do the procedure in our sleep. The airplane flies fine and the incident is routine. What we DON’T practice is the sudden and unrecoverable loss of ALL engines, because the odds of that happening are miniscule. Yet it happened. The crew in that situation has just seconds to make the determination that they can’t recover power, that they must land the airplane somewhere in the next minute or two, then pick that spot and configure the aircraft for that landing,taking into account everything that could possibly affect the outcome of the landing/crash.
Here’s how the article on Wikipedia (link above) summed up the event:
“The incident came to be known as the “Miracle on the Hudson“, and Captain Sullenberger and the crew were hailed as heroes.
Folks, it wasn’t a miracle. “Miracle” suggests that something outside the aircraft – some element of luck or good Karma or an other-worldly force – was responsible for the safe (there were injuries, but only a handful serious, and no deaths) outcome of an unforeseeable, untrainable set of failures.
No, I believe what saved that flight was an exceptionally able, well trained crew who used their skill, experience and knowledge to shape events in a favorable way. Heros, yes, but let’s leave the credit where it belongs – with the crew.
So back to boats. All the fancy emergency gizmos, electronic signaling devices, emergency rafts and all won’t matter a bunch of fetid dingo’s kidneys* if the crew doesn’t have the skills and attitude to thrive and survive, and the ability to improvise and make the most of their resources. Maintain a strong boat and a well trained crew, and you can leave most of the expensive toys on the dock.
Which leaves you a lot more money to enjoy the other 99.997% of what cruising has to offer.
*with apologies to Douglas Adams