(Cover photo by Nicki Dunbar. All rights reserved)
Since we started cruising and living aboard Sionna full-time (we left Maine August 18th, 2016), I’ve been continually impressed by the number of people who think we’re crazy.
Now the truth is, they may be right – we may be crazy. But we’re not thrill-seekers or risk-takers or even imprudent. So why the frequent (though by no means universal) impression that the life we live is fraught with peril?
I suppose it’s because what we do is unfamiliar, so as a public service in the interest of reducing the overall level of cultural fear and stress, let me just say “It’s not as bad as you might imagine”.
I love statistics – particularly accurate statistics, appropriately applied – so here are a few pertinent facts to hopefully put things in perspective.
In 2014, recreational vessels as a whole had a fatality rate of 5.2 deaths per 100,000 miles traveled. Of those deaths, sailboats were statistically absent from the list. (Meaning that motorboats, particularly high-powered and small motor boats, had so many fatal accidents that the few deaths involving sailboats were statistically nil.) Largely this is related to speed. Fast boats get into trouble quicker, and sailboats aren’t fast.
To compare to something most non-boaters are familiar with, the injury rate for boating is 1/10 that of automobiles per 100,000 vehicles/vessels. You’re 10 – times more likely to be injured in your car than on a boat. But it’s also true that the fatality rate for boating (and again, we’re talking about motor boats) is significantly HIGHER than for autos – nearly five times higher! And why?
According to the US Coast Guard report on boating safety for 2014, nearly 80% of people killed in boating accidents weren’t whereing a life vest. Alcohol was cited in almost 50% of cases, and lack of training/knowledge in over 30%.
So you could say that the biggest risk factor in boating is – basically – stupidity.
The Darwin Awards comes to mind…
So how do you stay safe on a boat? It’s pretty simple, really. Wear a life vest, slow down, don’t drink until the anchor is safely set, and get some training.
What do we do on Sionna?
We train and we study. All the time. Nicki and I are constantly reading and listening, looking at how we operate our floating home, reviewing our equipment and procedures to make sure we’re minimizing the chances of something going wrong, and developing a plan to deal with the risks we can foresee. We also brainstorm. “So, if “X” happens, how would I handle that?” Is a great mental exercise that lets you play out – in your mind – what you’d do if something let loose at an inconvenient time.
We wear our life vests. Always. OK, we don’t wear them if we’re sitting in the cockpit eating dinner, but if the boat is moving, or we’re getting in the dinghy to go ashore, or we’re checking gear on deck during a rough night at anchor, we do.
We have rules, and we follow them. No leaving the cockpit at night or in rough weather unless the other person is on deck and alert. We tie in (secure ourselves to the boat with a lanyard so that we CAN’T fall off the boat) at night, or in rough weather. Reef (reduce sail area) the first time either of us even thinks it might be a good idea.
You get the idea.
Safety is a mindset, an intention. We don’t look at sailing and traveling by boat as a risky proposition because it’s far less risky than riding in a car or flying in an airplane the way we do it. But we do keep safety and risk-reduction always in mind, just as you would look both ways before you cross the street. It’s common sense.
And besides; we see the best sunsets…