Reverse docking

This time: a cheat for when you are struggling to come alongside a dock bow-first because it’s a tight space and the wind is blowing you away.

This technique works with any vessel with outdrives, outboards or twin engines.

1. Prepare fenders and mooring lines. Ensure you or your crew knows how to lasso a cleat (to be covered in another article) and is fully briefed

2. Get the wind at six o’clock to the vessel (directly astern)

3. Idle towards the desired cleat in reverse whilst keeping the wind as close to six o’clock as possible

4&5. Keep your speed under control by using neutral as often as possible. Better too slow than too fast, because if your leg or outboard contact the dock they are susceptible to damage

6&7. Have your crew lasso the cleat or pick up the dock line and secure it to the aft cleat closest to the dock. Use a minimum of three figure of eights, and a little slack in the line is required to pivot on

8. NEVER engage gear while your crew is working the cleat. Have them show you both their hands are clear before engaging forward gear.

9. The helm should be in the midships (straight) position or else turned slightly towards the dock. Repeatedly shift between forwards and neutral to control the vessel’s closing rate with the dock.

10. Once alongside, leave the engine in gear to hold the boat alongside the dock. Have your crew attach a bow line from the vessel if possible – the risks of stepping off a boat that’s in gear are numerous, so avoid it whenever you can.

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Anatomy of a Rescue: Essence Pt 2

Continuing Bruce Goodwin’s account of the sinking of the yacht Essence off the east coast of Northland in October 2019, and the crew’s rescue.

As planned, the first thing we did after jumping off the sinking Essence was link ourselves with our safety tethers so we wouldn’t be separated. The shock of cold water literally took our breath away.
Then an incredible thing happened: an enormous albatross landed right beside us. Having this big bird sitting not much more than an arm’s length away was amazing. It had a long, hooked beak that looked powerful enough to rip me apart, but its head looked aristocratic and wise, caring and compassionate.
I am a Christian, and it suddenly filled me with confidence that I was exactly where God wanted me to be. From then on it didn’t worry me whether I should live or die: it would be God’s plan for me. I didn’t see the albatross leave, but I don’t think it stayed long.
Despite that sense of spiritual calm, the first minutes in the water were, physically, extremely hard. Breakers were crashing over us and I took in a lot of salt water, with a lot of coughing and spluttering. I knew I had to do better. Making a conscious effort to close my mouth and breathe through my nose, I gradually got my breathing under control and adjusted to the temperature.

We tried huddling together for warmth, but it didn’t work for me. I was being held deeper in the water than I liked and it made it harder to breathe without taking in water. Eventually I excused myself from the huddle and settled into floating on my back with my head into the waves, the PLB stuck in the cleft of my lifejacket. That seemed to work best.

Huge, breaking waves washed over us, tumbling us around as in a washing machine. Once we were pushed deep under water. I held my breath and hugged my lifejacket, knowing it would eventually bring me back to the surface.
To begin with we talked a little. I remember thanking Pamela for her wonderful cooking, although I’m not sure she heard me. Despite the conditions, she had produced a gourmet breakfast that morning. Steve’s lifejacket was deflating and we needed to sort out his manual inflating tube. His lifejacket had auto-inflated during the rollover, and probably developed a leak in the process.
We knew the first sign of rescue would be a P3 Orion aircraft. From his experience in the Defence Force, Steve calculated the time before the plane would be overhead, factoring in the pre-flight checks and the flight time from Whenuapai. I thought his calculations were optimistic, and I mentally prepared to swim through the night.
Gradually the talk died away, and time went fuzzy-wuzzy for me as we settled into the wait.

(Royal New Zealand Navy Photo by Petty Officer Chris Weissenborn).

At some stage I remembered there might be a hand-held VHF radio in the grab bag, so I unzipped a small opening and poked my hand in to feel around. Eventually I found it. Unfamiliar with the brand, I handed it to Stuart. He called and a reply came back quickly, confirming that an Orion would be overhead in 10 minutes: our first positive news. Steve’s calculations had been pretty accurate.
The sight of that big, grey, four-engine plane roaring past will remain with me forever. I raised my hand and yelled “You beauty! We’re going to make it!”
It passed about 200m away, flying very low, and I was sure the crew had seen us. We didn’t see it again for about five minutes, then it returned. This pattern was repeated four or five times, and I heard Stuart say on the radio “When are you going to drop the life raft? We’re getting very cold here.”
On one pass they dropped a floating smoke flare about 100m away. All this time I’d presumed they’d spotted us, but Steve hadn’t seen them wave the wings, and he was unsure. They got Stuart to do a count-down on the VHF to help them get our position. When it flew by Stuart would call over the radio “Now, now: on your port side.”
They were apparently getting our position from my PLB, but because they were flying so low the signal was cutting out as we sank into the troughs. Eventually, the Orion flew past very one, but none of us thought of it, or even remembered they were there. Perhaps hypothermia and fatigue diminished our mental capacities.
The Orion disappeared, then moments later a very long rope (about 100m) with flags attached came floating down. This is what we’d been waiting for: although I couldn’t see it, I knew there was a life-raft attached to the end.
I struck out swimming for the rope as fast as I could, but soon had to pause for breath. At first it looked like an impossible task, but I kept swimming, resting and swimming. I had no idea how the others were getting on behind me. Each time I rested I could see the rope being blown off the waves, then coming back down onto the water a little closer to me, which was encouraging.
I felt good when I eventually got hold of the rope, and I started pulling myself along it as fast as I could. In the distance I could see the life raft. Initially it wasn’t too hard to make my way towards it, even though the other three were tethered behind me. They must have been pulling too, and the wind must have been blowing the raft towards us.

(Royal New Zealand Navy Photo by Petty Officer Chris Weissenborn).

But the raft then drifted past us, still some distance away, and the pull from it being driven by the wind was tremendous. Just holding onto the rope was all I could do. I locked my hands on, knowing it might be my only chance of survival. I had no idea how the others were getting on. I was focused to the max.
Now and then the pull on the rope would ease when, I presumed, the raft dipped into the troughs and out of the wind. This enabled a little more progress. Then the pull would come on again, and I’d have to hang on with all the will I could muster. Then the pull would ease again, and I’d make a little more distance. The search and rescue operation (SAROP) report indicates that it took at least 21 minutes between my reaching the line and getting into the raft. It was certainly the hardest physical battle I’ve ever tackled.
Loops of webbing ran along the raft’s side, with arrows pointing the way for boarding. It was another milestone to put my hands on the webbing, but as I started to work my way around to the boarding position I could feel a tangle of people, rope and equipment behind me. I could only get partially up the boarding slide before I was totally stuck. Our tethers were too short, and the strain on my tether to Steve would not let me go any further. Eventually, by turning my body 90o and entering the raft feet first I was able to get myself three-quarters of the way in.
To get in I had to release my tether. It wasn’t a snap-shackle type hook, and it was quite difficult to remove, but eventually I freed it and got into the raft. I then tried to help Steve in. I pulled on the tether, then on his lifejacket, but it seemed I was going to pull the lifejacket off him. I even pulled on his head until he yelled at me to stop. Despite the effort I was only able to get him half-way up.

The only option left was to release the tether connecting him to Pamela and eventually Steve was aboard. Pamela and Stuart were alongside in a tangle of the life-raft’s rope and the line connecting the dan buoy and life ring.
Breakers were crashing through the raft. The wind howled and the raft’s unzipped sides flapped wildly. It must have been very noisy, but I have no memory of the sound. I thought we’d be blown over like tumbleweed at any moment and was worried that we no longer had tethers attached to the raft or each other.
We focused on Pamela and Stuart: I helped Pamela – Steve helped Stuart. Pamela was floating on her back, one hand on a webbing handle. Her eyes were open, but her face showed little expression. Waves were washing over her but it didn’t seem to bother her. Her face was blue-grey. That moment became the epicentre of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) I’ve since experienced.
I talked to her to try to keep her fighting, but she was mostly unresponsive. She was tangled in ropes, and the dan buoy rod was stuck on something under the raft.
I pulled at her lifejacket, but she slipped through it and her head went under water: she was too firmly anchored to the tangle under the water. Nothing I did seemed to help. I yelled at Steve: “What’s the plan? I can’t get her in.”
His reply was much the same as my question: “What’ll we do? What’s the plan?” I didn’t know.
After that, we settled for supporting them as best we could. All I could do was hold Pamela’s head out of the water a little. Fortunately, we weren’t in this position for too long: the SAROP report suggests it was probably a little more than 20 minutes. Then something made me look up, and I spotted a helicopter. I yelled at Pamela “Hang on! There’s a helicopter here. It won’t be long now.” There was no sign that she could hear me, and I just kept on holding on to her.

Soon I spotted the rescue swimmer in the water, being dragged into position by the helicopter’s winch cable. He was wearing a wetsuit with goggles, flippers and a yellow helmet.
Steve indicated that he should take Stuart first: no doubt Steve’s military training helped him to recognise who was faring worst. The swimmer cut Stuart and Pamela free, and the raft, propelled by the wind, quickly drifted away from them. We could see the helicopter hovering over them in the distance, and eventually I saw Stuart and the swimmer being lifted with a trail of ropes under them.
The swimmer had lost his knife and hadn’t been able to clear all the rope. This, I learned later, gave them an anxious moment because of the risk of the ropes getting tangled around the tail rotor. The winchman cut the ropes clear before swinging Stuart aboard, and the swimmer went straight back down for Pamela.
This gave Steve and I a little time to take stock of our situation and we started zipping up the sides. The raft – a 10-person model – had an inflatable framework over the top that supported the zip-up sides. It felt like the Hilton compared to swimming in the water. I could have survived there for some time with the sides zipped up, cutting the wind away from us. But we didn’t get much time to enjoy our new home.
I kept one zipper open to watch for our rescuers. I soon spotted the swimmer 10m away, but the raft was drifting fast, and he couldn’t get to us. He was a very strong, fit young man, but he, too, was pushed to his limits.
He was lifted into the air again and repositioned beside us. He got aboard and chose me to go next. I gave my PLB to Steve, while the swimmer placed a lifebelt around me. In an instant we were pulled from the raft and dragged through the water. I remembered to keep my mouth shut and thinking “I’m in his hands now: I don’t have to struggle. Just go along for the ride.”
We were soon beside the helicopter, and practised hands swapped carabiners over and swung me aboard. I was totally drained. For a few minutes I couldn’t even lift my head. Someone told me to move to a seat. I couldn’t – someone lifted and belted me into it.

It wasn’t long before Steve was swung in, and the smile on his face was precious. The side door was closed, Steve was belted into a seat, and we settled in for the flight to Whangarei. We were nine aboard, with not much space between us.
I looked at Pamela. She was wrapped in aluminium foil thermal blankets and very pale, but she managed a small smile, and that meant so much to me. Between us was Stuart, wrapped in a tarpaulin. I couldn’t see him, so I started to clear a small area around his face. I needed to get a smile from him, but a crewman waved me away. I didn’t understand what he was telling me, so I tried again. Again, I was waved away.
I just could not believe he had died. Just minutes before, alongside the life-raft, he’d been talking to Steve. He’d held onto Pamela the whole time in the water, and never let her go until they were alongside the life-raft. He’d been so close to making it home.
Many wonderful things have since been said about Stuart, all of them true, but what remains with me is his devotion to Pamela right to the end. The last thing we heard him say was asking Steve, alongside the life-raft “Where’s Pamela? How is she?” What a love story!
We landed on a sports field. I learned later the Orion flew above us to see that we made it in okay. Ambulance people came into the helicopter and took Pamela. Someone asked if I could walk. I said I’d try – and found I could walk quite well with someone holding my arm. They took all my gear off – lifejacket, harness, wet weather gear and wet clothing – then wrapped me in bubble wrap and thermal blankets before lying me on a stretcher in the ambulance. Steve was with me: I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him talking on his phone.
I began shivering uncontrollably. Until then I hadn’t felt particularly cold after recovering from the shock of entering the water, but I was told my body temperature was a bit low. “You’ll be all right now, mate,” said the cheery ambulance officer. “You’re shivering: that’s your body warming itself up.”

Staff at Whangarei Hospital checked us over and worked to restore our core body temperatures. Sharon Beck from the Whangarei Town Basin Marina office kindly brought brand-new clothes for each us so we could leave the hospital with dignity. Her thoughtfulness was much appreciated.
Steve and I were discharged from hospital about 10pm into the care of my niece Pam Locke and her husband Conlon, who live in Whangarei. I didn’t sleep well that night, waking up occasionally, shivering and tearful.
But the hugs, the talking into the night, the dram of whisky and the joyful welcome from my little grand-nephews and nieces in the morning, were just what I needed as I started to get to grips, emotionally and psychologically, with what had happened. Pamela stayed in intensive care overnight but has since made a full physical recovery.

Although our physical recovery periods could be measured in hours or days, the mental and psychological recovery takes longer. Pamela lost a devoted husband – Steve and I a good friend. We’d stared death in the face ourselves. We’d been soaked, chilled, cut, bruised and exhausted and had swallowed lots of salt water.
We’ve experienced PTSD in different ways. Steve’s and Pamela’s experiences are their stories to tell, or not, as they choose. As for me, with the right help and the love and support of understanding family and friends, and my Christian faith, I am recovering. I’ve found it helpful to talk and write about it: this article is an adaptation of a personal memoir I’ve written, partly as therapy.
And sailing is still my happy place: I would hate anyone reading this to be put off sailing or pursuing their dream of an ocean passage. Prepare well, and you’ll be amazed by what you can deal with.
Finally, may I publicly thank and pay tribute to the wonderful people who willingly flew aircraft and drove boats into a howling gale to rescue us, putting their own lives on the line to rescue us: their skill and bravery are remarkable and to be treasured.


Since Essence’s loss I’ve reflected long and hard on what we did right and wrong, or could have done better, before, during and after the event. I share my thoughts and conclusions in the hope that it might help prevent, or at least mitigate, accidents like ours.
Central to these issues is that Essence did not hit anything solid: all the damage was done by water. We under-estimate the power of the ocean at our peril.

Was the boat fit for purpose?
I’m not going to express an opinion on this point, but offer a few reflections.
Essence, a Bavaria 47, was a purpose-built cruising boat. She’d coped well in 20 years of cruising the world but met her match in conditions not uncommon in New Zealand waters. She was certainly very well-equipped and had been sailing beautifully right up to the roll-over. So why did she sink?
There’s no simple answer, but design might have played a part. Cruising yacht design is often a compromise between speed, manoeuvrability, comfort and safety. A fast, easily-manoeuvred boat requires light weight and a relatively flat bottom, and a fin keel or similar.
A cruising boat that will handle large seas, preferably on auto-pilot, requires a heavier displacement and a longer keel, and perhaps a rudder post on which to hinge the rudder. But such boats are slower and less manoeuvrable, so designers – no doubt influenced by buyers’ preferences – often compromise between the two.
Similarly, to have a pleasant, airy feel down below requires large windows, but small windows better withstand the impact of large bodies of water, and of boats being thrown on their side or roof. Again, compromise is often the result. Essence was the central-cockpit version of the Bavaria 47, with much bigger cabin windows than her aft-cockpit siblings.
I’m no expert on yacht design, but I know my own experiences. I own a Pacific 38 called Vara, a yacht of moderately heavy displacement, with a three-quarter-length keel and a rudder post.
On Vara I can confidently use the auto-pilot in all conditions. This means that being knocked down, mast into the water, can happen multiple times a day in conditions like those we experienced. Vara has always righted herself relatively unscathed. Essence, with a wider, flatter bottom, reached her tipping point more quickly, and probably stayed over longer, than I’d have expected with Vara.
Although auto-pilots can break down or be damaged, they don’t get tired, or suffer lapses of concentration and vigilance, or make errors of judgement. But because of her different hull, keel and rudder design, Essence couldn’t be sailed on auto-pilot in storm conditions, so we steered, leaving us potentially at the mercy of our own fallibility.
Questions I expect the Maritime NZ investigation will address include:
• Were the windows’ size and strength rating within the specifications recommended for NZ Category 1?
The windows were larger than those on most cruising boats, but I understand they’d recently been fitted with specially-strengthened glass
• Why did the windows burst outwards, as my crewmate Steve Newman swears he saw?
• Did the cabin roof have the structural strength to withstand being dropped into the sea?
• Why did the forward hatch, which was locked shut, burst open?
• Was the boat’s design suitable for offshore cruising?
Did we heed the weather forecasts?
Yes. We departed Fiji when the forecast for the next several days was favourable, and so it proved.
But a crew preparing for a long ocean passage doesn’t often have a choice of weather beyond the first few days, nor is there always a nearby sheltered anchorage. So a boat on a long passage must be capable of sailing in all conditions.
To illustrate the point: I had sailed that same passage about 14 times in the previous 20 years, and on three or four of them I experienced winds stronger than 45 knots. I once experienced winds of more than 70 knots for 11 hours.

Were we sailing appropriately for the conditions?
This question encompasses issues such as speed, course, sail choice, tactics and precautions.
At the time of the incident we were broad reaching at 7 – 8.5 knots with a small staysail and a third reef in the main. I was pleased with the boat’s speed, and quite happy that we weren’t sailing faster than we/she could handle. I honestly don’t believe boat speed was an issue.
We’d been hand steering for some time and held course well, steering diagonally across the line of the waves. As larger, steeper waves approached we would steer more downwind, to take the waves across the stern if they broke. This worked well.
I’ve been asked why we hadn’t deployed a sea anchor, or drogue, to slow the boat down. We felt our speed was under control. Drogues also reduce the helm’s directional control so that the boat sails predominantly downwind. We needed to avoid downwind sailing to avoid being forced on to the coast.
Overall, I think we were sailing the boat very well.

What worked well?
• Preparing for the bad weather – knowing a big blow was imminent, we prepared well before the worst of it hit. This certainly made things far less traumatic than they might have been, and included the following actions:
setting the storm sails before the wind increased to storm force; dressing well with warm clothes and wet weather gear before going on deck
• Eating well and keeping hydrated – I’m sure the good breakfast I had before I went on deck that morning, the sweets that Pamela gave us every 30 minutes, and the chocolate and water she got us to gorge on just before we jumped into the water, helped to save our lives.
On a related topic, in my experience leaner people become hypothermic earlier than heavier folk, even if they’re fit, and their crewmates need to keep a close eye on them. Steve and I were more heavily built than Stuart and Pamela, and we fared better.
But I hesitate to draw too many conclusions from our case because other variables were, or might have been, in play. For example, Stuart and Pamela had been on deck since about 3am, while I’d had a good sleep, so exhaustion might have been as big a contributory factor in Stuart’s death and Pamela’s close call as anything else.
• Double tethering – when Stuart and I were in the cockpit we connected second tethers to our safety harnesses. Our main tethers went down to a jackline in the cockpit floor, and the second to the windward jackline. While moving around the boat we could move one tether while staying connected with the other, and at roll-over it meant we didn’t fall too far. This worked well when I went aft to clear damage, and at the roll-over.
• Setting up an hourly radio schedule – Pamela set this up on her own initiative, anticipating the bad weather. But skippers should order it as part of preparations for bad weather in case it gets overlooked among the myriad of other tasks that need to be done.
This meant that, although we were unable to provide a precise position at sinking, Marine Operations Centre had the information it needed to calculate it to within a small radius: our last known position, time, course and speed over ground. Tell the shore station how many people are on board, so that if necessary, the rescuers know when they’ve got everyone.
On a related note, on my own boat I’ve sometimes been the only person who knows how to operate the radio and make emergency calls. After this experience I am making a point of training at least one other crewmate in case something should happen to me.
• Using a satellite tracking app – Essence had Iridium GO! Although it didn’t actually play a part in our rescue, it might have. It enables people on shore to follow a boat’s progress on a smart phone or similar via a satellite link.
My wife Elaine was following us at home and noticed that it stopped working about the time of the sinking but thought nothing of it. (Perhaps it was just as well for her nerves that she didn’t think too hard about it!) But an assigned person monitoring the app on shore could raise the alarm in case the crew were unable to make a Mayday call. The marine version of Iridium GO! is portable and has a built-in SOS button which does not depend on a smart phone.
• Our hand-held VHF was in the grab bag – this meant we had one less thing to think about before we abandoned ship. It played an important part in our rescue, although it was lost during the later stages because it didn’t have a lanyard for attaching to a crew member.

Preparation to abandon
• Working as a team – fortunately, we had enough time to talk about what to do when leaving the boat. This might not always be possible, but it sure made a difference for us. We encouraged one another and ate chocolate and drank water as fast as we could.
We decided to attach tethers by both ends to our harnesses to link ourselves in the water. We checked one another’s life jackets and fitted crutch straps. We agreed to leave the boat to windward, presuming the boat would drift away from us, and this seemed to work well. By the time the boat went down we knew exactly what we had to do.
• Opening the gate in the railings – we could get off the boat quickly when the time came, reducing the risk of stumbling and tangling which climbing over the railings might have incurred. It also enabled us to land in the water close together, making it easier to link our tethers before drifting apart.

What could have been done better?
Not everything identified below was within our control, but they’re factors worth considering (and having possible workarounds ready) before putting to sea.
• The EPIRB should have been in the grab bag – the EPIRB, hand-held VHF and flares are critical items when abandoning ship. Our EPIRB was in a bracket on the bulkhead (a typical location) and it was lost in the roll-over. I can’t think why it can’t be kept in the grab bag, with a lanyard to attach it to a crew member. That way, it’s one less thing to think about when things get hairy. Other items in the bag could also have had lanyards.
• My personal locator beacon (PLB) – it should have been attached to my safety harness before I went on deck that morning, but I’d left it in the forward cabin. It could easily have been washed out when the forehatch was forced open in the roll-over. It’s still the stuff of my nightmares.
• We’d removed the anchor – we’d stowed it under a bunk but didn’t tie it down. We’d presumed our next stop would be at a wharf. That raises two issues which, in retrospect, concern me: the anchor can’t be deployed quickly. Re-fitting it is a 20-minute job in calm water, let alone doing it in wild weather; and what happened to it during the roll-over? We’ll never know but if it had come loose it could have caused considerable damage.
Had the plotter been working to identify the charted hazards (with the anchor mounted on the bow ready to deploy), we might have turned downwind to seek shelter along the Northland coast. This might/might not have prevented the roll-over, but it shows how two or three small things can lead or contribute to disaster.
• Huddling together for warmth in the water, as is recommended, did not work for me – I felt I was being pushed lower in the water which made it harder to breathe. I eventually settled for lying on my back with my head towards the breakers. I welcomed the little bit of floatation provided by my plastic boat shoes. I was able to relax lying horizontally on the surface.
• We didn’t fire a flare – we presumed, wrongly, that the Orion crew had seen us so we didn’t think about firing a flare. We should have briefed ourselves earlier: when a rescue boat/aircraft arrived we would fire a flare regardless of whether we believed its crew had seen us. That way, when our brains were slowing from the effects of cold and exhaustion, the chances were better that at least one of us would remember to do it.
• Different weather models created uncertainty – for our voyage we looked at four weather models that were often quite different for the same period, including the day of the sinking. This shows that weather forecasting is not a precise science, even for the experts.
When selecting a passage time it’s difficult to predict the conditions more than a few days ahead: it becomes a bit of a lottery. We wisely worked on the basis of the worst forecast – even then the wind exceeded the forecast strength by up to 15 knots.
• The life-raft fixings broke – we trust the designers to specify and fit crash-tested materials and fixings, but our life-raft was ripped from its cradle. I don’t remember how it was affixed, but no doubt the Maritime NZ investigation will report on it.
Less crucially, before the roll-over we also lost a set of solar panels attached to the stanchions. It reminded me of a saying I heard when I first started offshore cruising: ‘Don’t tie anything to the deck unless you’re prepared to lose it.’
• The touch-screen chart plotter – it stopped working when rain and spray hit the screen. I won’t be fitting one to my boat. Chart plotters are an amazing sailing aid, and most yachts rely on them now, but touch-screen versions no longer seem a wise choice.
• I believe there were plywood shutters for the boat’s large cabin windows, but they weren’t fitted – I never saw the shutters, nor do I remember seeing any permanent fixing points for them. Fitting them after the roll-over to prevent or slow water ingress would therefore have been impossible. Furthermore, I doubt whether they could have been fitted before we sailed without drilling holes into the cabin sides.
Realistically, one of the manual bilge pumps was not useable – two were fitted, as required for Category 1. One was in the cockpit – we used it constantly until the boat sank. The other one was in the aft cabin. As such, it was too far from the escape route through the main companionway, so we didn’t use it in case its operator couldn’t get out in time. But I believe that even with both pumps the boat would have sunk only marginally more slowly.
Finally, there are two things to bear in mind if you ever have to abandon ship:
• Don’t imagine a yacht will sink gradually – the last stage of a sinking happens frighteningly fast. Make sure you can get well clear when you need to.
• Cold shock – it’s literally breath-taking and will claim as many lives as drowning. Just being aware of the shock of the first moments in the water, and what your reaction might be, could save you.
I thought I’d be okay, but I found myself gasping for breath and coughing and spluttering to prevent water getting into my lungs. The first task on entering the water is getting your breathing under control. This was one of my very difficult moments, but I found a simple remedy: shut my mouth and breathe through my nose. It took about 10 minutes to settle into the swim, and even with waves crashing over me I didn’t have the same problem again.


The Fresnel Lens

In 1823 a humble French physicist – playing around with glass prisms – discovered a way to boost the intensity of a single light. It led to a revolution in lighthouses – their warning winks could be seen from much further away – making for safer coastal navigation. Words by Lawrence Schaffler. Photography supplied.

The physicist was Augustin Fresnel – and the best way to appreciate the brilliance of his invention is to visit the magnificent 500-year-old Phare de Cordouan lighthouse on France’s west coast, near the mouth of the Gironde estuary, about 100km north of Bordeaux.

While it’s an architectural and historical marvel in its own right (it’s currently being considered for UNESCO Heritage Site status), its place in history was assured because it became the world’s first lighthouse to receive Fresnel’s invention, and the display within tells his story in fascinating detail.
His discovery is particularly remarkable because it happened in an era when relatively little was known about the behaviour of light. While 19th century scientists were familiar with the theory of light as posited by 17th century Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens (he suggested – correctly – that light travelled in the form of waves), it remained a theory.
Fresnel discovered that by arranging a series of small, convex prisms into the shape of a beehive, he could re-capture the light (in those days provided by a flame) – and intensify it. His ground-breaking invention was based on ‘optical geometry’ and thereafter became known as the ‘Fresnel lens’.
When light passes between mediums of different densities – from air to glass or glass to water, for example – it’s refracted

(bent) and continues through the new medium in a slightly different direction. His concentric arrangement of the prisms captured and ‘amplified’ the light, making it visible over much greater distances.
Fresnel installed his prototype at the Cordouan lighthouse in 1823 – and within half a century this optical wizardry had been fitted to hundreds of lighthouses all over the world. For 19th century sailors without the benefits of RDF, GPS or even accurate charts, navigating around treacherous coasts became a lot safer.

Architectural Gem
But Cordouan is much more than a salute to Fresnel. Often described as a Renaissance masterpiece, it is many things in one structure – a lighthouse, a chapel, a fort and a royal palace – and arguably one of the world’s most beautiful lighthouses. It is France’s oldest operating lighthouse (construction began in the 16th century) and the world’s first to be built in the open sea (it stands on a tidal reef).
It is also one of the world’s few lighthouses that’s still manned permanently, and its custodians like to refer to it as the ‘Versailles of the Sea’. It’s easy to see why – its design harks back to an era of privileged extravagance. It also reflects Europe’s turbulent religious/political tensions over the centuries, and that entire saga is colourfully documented within the lighthouse.

Phare de Cordouan

It all began in the 14th century. The mouth of the estuary was renowned for its danger – scores of shipwrecks gave it an infamous nickname: the sailors’ graveyard. So in about 1360 the Black Prince (Edward, Prince of Wales), then commander of the English armies occupying Guyenne, ordered the building of a beacon to secure the mouth of the Gironde. This ‘Tour aux Anglais’ (the English tower) was a 16m structure topped by a platform where, every night, a hermit would keep a wood fire going.
Though rudimentary at best, it lasted nearly 200 years. In 1584, Henry III commissioned architect Louis de Foix to rebuild the old tower. Reflecting Henry’s view of the world (and of himself), the contract specified a ‘royal work’, fit for a king. Convoluted religious wars – with their attendant financial problems – kept progress to a snail’s pace. Still, de Foix persevered, even after the king’s death.

Picture by Manuel Cohen

By 1594, under Henry IV, the lighthouse began to resemble the royal vision. For what was ostensibly a practical structure it was remarkably exotic – it featured marble, carved wood panelling, paintings and sculptures, gilt trim, ornate pediments, small alcoves and domed ceilings and black-and-white mosaic tiles. Given the monarchy’s Catholicism, Cordouan would go on to become the only lighthouse ever to have its own chapel. Ironically, no monarch ever actually used the edifice.
It was finally completed in 1611. De Foix died c1603 and never saw the finished structure. But at the time his 37m lighthouse was considered “the Eighth Wonder of the World”. It’s light (fire) was provided by a mixture of tar, pitch and wood. Over the centuries the fuel source switched to whale oil, coal, rapeseed oil and, much later, to gas.

The Lantern, Picture by Manuel Cohen

In 1786 Joseph Teulère, a Bordeaux architect, was commissioned to raise the height of the lighthouse by 20m – the result was the lighthouse we see today. Teulère introduced a number of progressive changes, including a counterweight driving a rotary mechanism to create an ‘occulting’ beam – successive flashes of light. The concept was derived from a 1780 Swedish clock-making invention. Cordouan was one of the world’s first lighthouses to adopt this technology.
But the 1789 French Revolution removed the glitz. Royalty and its trappings were no longer tolerated. All royal effigies and inscriptions – along with the heads of the monarchy – were removed. Despite these egalitarian changes, there are still plenty of reminders reflecting Cordouan’s gilded past. Not quite Versailles, but not bad for a lighthouse.

Picture by Manuel Cohen

The lighthouse was finally electrified in 1948, with two generators powering a 6,000-watt bulb. Automation and computerisation arrived in 2006.
For lighthouse spotters (yes, they do exist), Cordouan is only accessible by a boat leaving from the mainland, and then only between April and November. After a 301-step climb – and risk of a cardiac arrest – visitors are greeted by a glorious panoramic view, albeit one that belies the coast’s deadly history.

gas basics

Because boaties are typically resourceful characters, it’s no surprise that many have tackled DIY gas installations. But they’re now being asked by marine brokers, insurance companies – and sometimes marina operators – to provide a ‘Gas Safety Certificate’ for their vessels. What’s that? Robin Trevallion, a certifying gas fitter with 40 years' experience, explains.

Prior to 2010 any work carried out on a gas installation connected to a cylinder of 15kg or less was not considered as ‘gas fitting’ and therefore not governed by the then NZ Gas Safety & Measurement Act.
In reality this meant anyone could legally repair a BBQ, install a cooktop on a boat or caravan – or even in a domestic property. In 2010 the Act changed. Today, the only gas equipment that’s not considered to be ‘gas fitting’ are mobile appliances where the gas supply moves with the appliance – BBQs and portable patio heaters. Note that domestic portable heaters, often known as ‘cabinet heaters’, have now also been banned.

Since 2010 any gas installation or appliance that’s a permanent fixture of a vessel, caravan or building now comes under the NZ 2010 Gas Safety & Measurement Act and any work carried out on such installations has to be carried out by a licensed gas fitter.
It is also a legal requirement for any gas work carried out on a boat, because Energy Safe considers it to be high-risk gas work. It must have a gas safety certificate issued by a Certifying Gas Fitter and the details of the work must be lodged on the Energy Safe website (
The certificate – valid for seven years from the date of issue – is a statement by the Certifying Gas Fitter that the installation has been carried out and commissioned according to AS/NZS 5601; 2013 gas codes parts 1 & 2, and any relevant appliance manufacturer’s instructions.
But the certificate is not a guarantee that something untoward will not happen to the installation over the seven years. So like any other component of the vessel, every gas installation should be regularly maintained.

How dangerous is gas on a boat?
All reportable gas accidents in New Zealand, where injury or death occurred, should be lodged with Energy Safe and these incidents are available for public viewing. In 2017 there were 12 reported accidents involving gas – none involved boats. In 2018 there were eight – again none involved boats.
Almost all these accidents involved either portable canister-type camping stoves, domestic cabinet heaters or faulty workmanship carried out by owners in caravans. They resulted in burns to the people concerned and damage to the property – no deaths occurred. So far in 2019 there have been no reported accidents involving gas.

Boats are highly flammable.

So why does Energy Safe classify gas work on a boat as ‘High Risk’? The work itself is not high risk, unless you count getting from the jetty onto the boat with a bag full of tools. I’d argue that the boat installation is no more likely to fail, if installed correctly and properly maintained, than any other gas installation. It’s classed as ‘High Risk’ because if a gas fault occurred there is a greater chance of injury or damage due to the relatively confined space on board a boat.

What are the dangers?
While there have been no recorded deaths in New Zealand relating to an uncontrolled gas leak either on a boat, caravan or domestic home, a gas leak on a boat has a greater risk of causing an explosion because liquid propane gas is heavier than air and if it leaks will act the same as water and fill the boat from the bilge up.

Gas hoses should be crimped.

If this happens you won’t smell the gas until it is nose height and by then you have a major problem on your hands. But deaths have been recorded due to Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Some relating to faulty gas equipment or its improper use (such as using a gas cooker as a means of heating in a confined space), others due to diesel or petrol-powered generators being used against the manufacturer’s advice, again in enclosed spaces.

Improving safety on board
Install a hard-wired gas detector with an audible alarm. Examine your gas installation and ask yourself: if gas leaked from a joint or appliance, where would it go? Remember it acts like water so consider sealing any gaps in the boat’s structure below, or adjacent to, the pipe or appliance. This would prevent the gas migrating from one area of the boat to another. If you can contain a leak you have a much better chance of smelling it before it becomes a major problem.
If you have a gas appliance that runs continually and un-monitored (such as a refrigerator) or has a relatively high gas consumption such as a continuous flow water heater, consider installing a carbon monoxide detector. The more permanent ventilation you have, the better.
If you see soot or black stains forming around a gas appliance, or excess condensation forming when you light a gas appliance, get it checked immediately. Of course, if you smell gas, turn it off immediately and seek advice.

Common issues
When a Certifying Gas Fitter inspects your vessel, he may come across some of the following issues. The cylinder should be less than 10 years old and in good order, with a manufacturer’s date stamped on the rim of the cylinder. Cylinders should always be stored and used upright – definitely not on their side – and secured to prevent movement from the boat’s motion. Ideally, secure them in a permanent, dedicated gas locker.

The locker should have a sealed door and a 19mm drain hole (minimum) at the bottom so any leaking gas will flow overboard either directly or indirectly through a deck drain. It should have a red triangular LPG warning label attached to the outside of the locker. If you have a fire on board the fire brigade or Coastguard won’t want to be searching through all the lockers to turn off the gas.
And a pressure test point should be in the initial pipework so a gas fitter can perform a ‘tightness test’ – ensuring there is no leak anywhere in the installation. Eliminate any gaps where leaking gas could pass from the gas locker to other areas of the vessel.
Gas hoses shouldn’t be fitted with jubilee clips – or worm clips as they are sometimes known. All hoses should be permanently crimped to the pipework. Again, the gas hose should be date stamped. Ideally they should not be more than five years old – although this is a recommendation rather than a legal requirement.
The hose must be in one continuous length and protected where it passes through locker walls or partitions. I recommend that if you’re upgrading your gas installation use copper pipe that’s encased in plastic. Note: if you have more than one appliance on board you have to use copper pipe.
Gas appliances must be installed and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and be approved for use in New Zealand and in a marine environment. This is a tricky area for the gas fitter when dealing with older installations as most owners rarely have the product’s original documentation.
Information regarding appliances can be difficult to track down, and appliance data plates can fade very quickly in a marine environment, making identification difficult. The Certifying Gas Fitter has to rely on his/her experience, judgement and knowledge of the relevant gas codes to decide if the appliance is installed correctly and is safe to use.

Gas has been used for lighting the streets of London since 1816, followed over time by cooking, refrigeration and heating applications around the world. Every year manufacturers produce better and safer appliances and safety legislation is getting tighter to prevent accidents.
If you have gas on board your vessel, treat it with respect, take steps to maintain the equipment just as you would with any other aspect of your boat – and it will serve you well.

safety at sea: a lesson learned

A committed safety-at-sea advocate, record-breaking yachtswoman Dee Caffari MBE details her experience of falling overboard during a recent offshore race – hoping it will highlight the lessons learned for the benefit of other sailors. By Lawrence Schaffler.

Dee, who has circumnavigated six times, is the first woman to have sailed single-handed and non-stop around the world in both directions. She was competing in this year’s SoCal 300 ocean race from Santa Barbara to San Diego in May when the unimaginable happened and she found herself viewing the boat from the water.
One of nine crew on a Santa Cruz 50, she was trimming the spinnaker while sitting, feet in, on the high side of the cockpit on a dark night at around midnight, with winds gusting to 30 knots, rough sea conditions and a boat speed between 16 and 22 knots.
She was wearing an Ocean Signal rescueME MOB1 man overboard device with integrated AIS and DSC attached to her Spinlock Vito Deckvest, but was not clipped on with her tether, despite the rule on the boat to always clip on at night.
Dee recounted in her blog: “We had a wave that knocked us into a big windward roll, I remember reaching out to the lifelines behind me to brace myself. As we came out of that windward roll, we started to heel the opposite way and the boat began to broach.
“I was easing the spinnaker as smoothly as possible to avoid an override and to help the helm gain control and ensure they could bear away again. As the boat continued to heel, I remember not having anywhere to place my foot to leeward to brace myself. It was then that I felt myself falling. I assumed I would land on the leeward side deck with my back against the lifelines. Instead I had cleared the lifelines and the next thing I knew I was viewing the boat and all the action from about 20 feet away in the water.
“I wanted to shout out to let them know where I was and that I was okay, but I was being pulled through the water by the spinnaker sheet that I was still holding onto. I decided to try and kick for the aft quarter of the yacht. At the same time, as I was flailing my legs around to try and move in the water, the crew onboard were dropping the spinnaker and driving the boat head to wind to slow down. This action facilitated my movement towards the back of the boat. I was able to grab the aft stanchion of the pushpit and I saw a familiar face of one of the crew.
“Once the spinnaker was secured down the forward hatch the crew came aft and recovered me from the water. I could sense the relief from those around me and this heightened my embarrassment. Once on the aft deck I could deflate my lifejacket to allow me more manoeuvrability and finally turn my AIS beacon off. This was strobing really brightly, obscuring my night vision and also causing a lot of noise on our DSC VHF that my unit had been programmed to. All exactly as you want it to.”
In a bid to raise awareness about the best safety equipment and procedures, Dee admits the fault was entirely her own for not clipping on with her tether. She stresses the need for crew training to act quickly for a speedy recovery, as well as a thorough debrief after any emergency to make necessary improvements.
She also emphasises the importance of wearing a MOB device to quickly alert the boat’s crew and other vessels in the vicinity when every second counts, especially in cold water.
“I would definitely recommend the Ocean Signal rescueME MOB1. I selected this product because it’s small and compact and fits into the lifejacket easily for automatic use. I also like the fact that it has AIS and DSC abilities.
Last year Dee completed the Volvo Ocean Race skippering Turn the Tide on Plastic – the second time she has led a crew around the world. In 2006, she became the first woman to sail solo round the world against the prevailing winds and currents and was awarded the MBE in recognition of this achievement.

Godfather of Coastguard

Alan Haddock’s one of those quiet, self-effacing chaps who’s worked tirelessly behind the scenes at Coastguard for decades helping others. His main contribution has been education, training boaties how to go to sea and return safely. John Macfarlane has his story.

While Haddock’s uncles were involved with the sea, his father Herbert and mother Rose Edith became Waikato farmers and it was here Haddock was born in 1928. There was no question about staying on the farm: “From as long as I can remember, all I wanted to do was go to sea.”

But this wasn’t easy in the closing stages of WWII. Aged 16, he eventually managed to secure a ‘boy’ position aboard the Northern Steamship Company’s coaster Kapiti.
He later graduated to the Port Line’s Port Halifax and Port Fremantle, in which he voyaged between New Zealand and the UK. As an aside, the Port Line was originally named the Commonwealth and Dominion Line and eventually became part of the well-known Cunard line.


In 1955 he met his future wife Margaret in Sydney and, seeking a family life ashore, left the sea in 1955 to join Ansett Transport Industries, then owned by Reg Ansett. Ten years later he joined Alltrans, founded by Peter (later Sir Peter) Abeles, an Australian transportation magnate.

Abeles had master-minded the merger between Alltrans and Thomas Nationwide Transport, growing it into one of the world’s biggest transport companies.
In 1964, Abeles asked Haddock to open a branch of Alltrans in New Zealand. Haddock’s wife wasn’t keen, but with the understanding they’d try New Zealand for a year and return to Sydney if it didn’t work out, he agreed.

After setting up an Alltrans office in Auckland he took up pleasure boating. Following a recommendation, he commissioned Tauranga boatbuilder Dick Smith to design and build him a 7m runabout, which he named Seaduction. “A beautiful boat.”


He joined the Outboard Boating Club (OBC) and the Auckland Volunteer Coastguard (AVC). Around that time the AVC was undergoing a renaissance in membership after having dropped to fewer than 70 members at one point.

This renaissance came about largely due to the efforts of the president, Dr John Taylor, who later drove the fundraising for a new Coastguard building at Okahu Bay – still in use today.

Haddock was soon into the thick of things at both organisations. In 1970 he began tutoring fellow OBC members in a Safe Boating course. He also organised and operated a Safe Boating stand at the New Zealand Boat Show.

Between 1969 and 1976, he followed Taylor as President and became the Search & Rescue (S&R) Group Chairman at AVC, which meant organising the rostering and S&R operations of some 30 displacement and 15 trailer boats. He also undertook his share of S&R operations in Seaduction and his later boat Kiribilli, a 12m Terry Cookson-designed and built GRP launch.

Around this time he also represented Coastguard on the Small Boat Safety Committee (SBSC), and one of his first contributions was dropping the then system of grid charts used in S&R operations, in favour of either a distance and bearings from a known point, or latitude and longitude.

“I wouldn’t have a bar of grid charts. They were dangerous in my opinion. How could people use a grid if they didn’t know where they were?”

During these years he and assistant Keith Archer organised the control and patrol boats for the Epiglass 40 and Atlantic 100 power boat races, which meant organising 70 vessels and making in excess of 600 radio calls in a 12-hour period.

Kiribilli on Coastguard duties.

In 1974-5, New Zealand Post announced that the then DSB (Double-Sideband) radio frequencies were going to be phased out in favour of VHF, which was line-of-sight range only. AVC began discussions with New Zealand Post about keeping the DSB for S&R operations, without success.

So Haddock and fellow AVC executives Barry Thompson and the late Harvey Sheppard met with Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. In his typically bullying manner, Muldoon refused to deal with the trio, saying he’d only deal with a national body.

At that time, each boating region had its own S&R organisation, which had usually evolved to suit local conditions. Some like Auckland used the word Coastguard, others, such as the Sumner Lifeboat Institute, didn’t. S&R organisations were fragmented, which unquestionably Muldoon knew.

Calling Muldoon’s bluff, Haddock and Sheppard invited the other New Zealand marine SAR organisations to a meeting in Taupo, which eventually resulted in the formation of the New Zealand Coastguard Federation, a National body, with Haddock being elected pro tempore President.

Haddock, left, and the late Harvey Sheppard in 2003.

While the Federation failed to retain DSB radio bands for boaties, by using repeaters throughout the region, boaties were eventually able to get very good radio coverage over the VHF bands.

The best thing by far to come out of the whole affair was Coastguard forming a national body. However, this wasn’t Haddock’s most valuable contribution to Coastguard – he’s best known for his contribution to marine education.

While Coastguard has provided seamanship training for its own members since 1937/8, it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that it began offering training – albeit fairly basic – to recreational boaties.

Until the 1970s the Ministry of Transport (MOT) had run most of the pleasure boating courses, such as the Boatmaster Course (original named Yachtmaster – 2nd Grade – Certificate) and the Master of Pleasure Yacht Coastal (Yachtmaster 1st Grade).

Together with a small team – Jim Lott, Keith Archer and Sheppard – Haddock implemented the Coastguard Safe Boating Course. Designed to sit under the MOT Boatmaster Course, it helped thousands of new boaties gain basic safe boating skills.

But in 1985, like many government departments, the MOT undertook a major restructure. The next year Coastguard took over the tutoring of the Boatmaster, Master of a Pleasure Yacht Coastal and Master of Pleasure Yacht Ocean Courses.
In addition to running courses at its own facilities, Coastguard courses were offered through local colleges, making them far more accessible to the public.

Haddock and Prince Charles awarding Boatmaster Certificates at the Sumner Lifeboat Institute in 1981.


Coastguard Structure

What became known as The Royal New Zealand Coastguard Incorporated was founded in Auckland in 1937/8. Over time, other SAR organisations were founded in various regions, each having its own name, brand, funding, standards and operational methods.

In 1976, as detailed above, a National body was established – the New Zealand Coastguard Federation – primarily for the purposes of radio frequency allocation. This was a relatively loose organisation that represented the various independent Coastguard S&R units in regard to issues at a governmental level.

In the late 1990s, it became apparent there was a need to standardise and better control policies and procedures in the areas of health and safety, litigation, customer expectations and more throughout the country.

But there was concern that some of the smaller units around the country may lose their independence through being controlled by a single National Centre. The solution was to divide Coastguard into four regions – Northern, Eastern, Central and Southern – allowing the smaller local S&R units within those regions to have bigger influence than would have been possible had they all been lumped together under a single National entity.

Basically, this means everything but the core S&R functions are handled at a regional level, freeing up the operational staff to focus on their core activities – saving lives at sea. Besides thousands of volunteer hours, funding for S&R operations comes from membership subscriptions, grants and other external fundraising such as lotteries.

Founded in 1979, Coastguard Education has always been a national organisation. It’s set up as a Limited Liability Company with Charitable Tax Status, and besides course fees is funded by grants from the likes of Water Safety and Lotteries.

From initially only offering four courses, Coastguard Education today offers more than 20 marine courses ranging from the basic VHF Radio Operators Certificate through to comprehensive RYA/MCA Yachtmaster Coastal/Offshore/Ocean Qualifications. And while these have traditionally been aimed at the pleasure boating public, Coastguard Education is increasingly offering training to commercial operators.

Avoid the flame-test

An Auckland man found out the hard way why you should never use an open flame to check for a gas leak. He suffered serious burns when his lighter caused an explosion on his vessel.

Luckily, both the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter and Coastguard were alerted and were able to get the fire under control and the man to hospital for treatment.

His pain serves as a stark reminder of how dangerous gas leaks are, not to mention how important it is to use a safe method to check for them. There are ways you can prevent a gas leak from becoming serious, without hurting yourself in the process.


LPG is a common fuel for cookers on boats and the need to have a gas detector and a shut-off valve is well-known. If you don’t have a detector and a reminder note in the galley to “Turn off gas at the bottle”, a trip to the chandlery is probably timely. Once you have one, check that the control unit is functioning properly, the detectors are properly located, and avoid the temptation to ignore the alarm or to override it.

Carbon monoxide is a less well-known but lethal gas for boaties. Carbon monoxide poisoning has caused a number of boating deaths and often occurs when engine exhaust gas leaks or generator fumes are ‘sucked’ back into the cockpit and cabin.

The gas is colourless, odourless and tasteless – and it can kill you in a matter of minutes. High levels of carbon monoxide are particularly dangerous when you’re asleep because you’re unable to detect the early symptoms such as tiredness, drowsiness, headache, nausea, and pains in the chest and stomach. In the US the frequency of deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning has resulted in recommendations not to run a generator overnight when at anchor.


A gas detector alerts you to gas leaks or fuel fumes. Different types of detectors detect combustible, flammable and toxic gases.

Marine gas detectors can provide an early warning before gas concentrations reach a level that can cause an explosion or cause unconsciousness. Their warnings are either visual (a flashing light) or aural (sounding an alarm). Some gas detectors even automatically shut off the solenoid valve fitted to a LPG gas bottle.

When fitting your gas detector, make sure you have it in the right place. LPG and petrol vapours are heavier than air and will settle in the lowest areas of a boat – usually the bilges. Sensors should therefore be fitted low down, though above levels likely to be flooded.

Most chandleries and marine electricians carry a range of good quality gas detectors.


While a proper gas detector helps to prevent catastrophes such as an explosion or poisoning, it’s not entirely foolproof and accidents at sea can happen at any time.


It does not matter what vessel you have – the basic stability principles are the same. Simply put, stability is best achieved by keeping the boat’s centre of gravity (of all of the combined weight) low down and directly above the centre of the upward force on the hull (centre of buoyancy). As you add weight to the vessel the centre of gravity moves upwards.

Loading your boat beyond its safe carrying capacity with too many people or too much gear can cause the boat to become unstable, resulting in capsize or swamping. Prevailing weather conditions and the sea-state can further compromise the margin of safety. To make the right decisions to keep the vessel safe, a skipper needs to understand the many factors that can affect stability.

Stability can change throughout a trip, so it’s important to understand why this occurs. For example, if you use fuel from builtin tanks and then load lots of people on the cabin roof on the way home the vessel will become ‘top-heavy’ and more susceptible to excessive rolling.

Get to know how your boat feels in normal operation and be aware of any changes in responsiveness. If the boat begins to feel a little slow in recovering from wave motion you may need to move any added weight further down in the hull. Here are some tips on maintaining a vessel’s stability.

1. Keep weight low

New equipment added higher up on a vessel – or replacing gear with heavier equipment – raises the centre of gravity and reduces the boat’s stability. If you are planning major alterations to your boat, consult a boatbuilder or marine surveyor. In smaller boats minor changes in weight distribution can produce large effects – a good day’s fishing might reduce freeboard and a small wave or powerboat wash might cause the boat to flood.

The Coast Guard prepares to transfer four mariners from their capsizing vessel Aug. 5, 2018 near Freeport, Texas. The mariners were transported to the Bridge Bait boat ramp with no medical concerns. 
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Station Freeport.

The Coast Guard prepares to transfer four mariners from their capsizing vessel Aug. 5, 2018 near Freeport, Texas. The mariners were transported to the Bridge Bait boat ramp with no medical concerns. 
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Station Freeport.

2. Avoid overloading

This is particularly relevant for smaller boats where people can move about the boat and drastically alter the centre of gravity and freeboard (if they all move to one side). Many locally-built trailer boats carry the Coastguard ‘CPC certified’ plate which gives guidance on a number of factors, including loading. If you’re looking to buy a boat ensure it carries this plate.

Alcohol and boating don’t mix so be sensible and avoid

weighing your boat down with beers – make space for the day’s catch and have a drink when you’re home safe and sound.

3. Keep excess water out

A wave on deck can ‘downflood’ the accommodation areas and add tonnes of extra weight and produce a strong rolling force (known as ‘free-surface effect’). The extra weight drastically lowers freeboard, raises the centre of gravity and, when the water shifts, tries to roll the boat over.

4. Secure the load

Stow a vessel’s gear on or as near the centreline, as close to the middle or the boat, as possible. Secure it so that it can withstand wave impact, rolling and wind loading without shifting. 

LEARN MORE As a skipper, you are responsible for the safety of everyone on board and for the safe operation of the vessel. A Coastguard Boating Education Day Skipper course is an introduction to boating safety and knowledge. Visit for more information.

Fire on board

What was supposed to be a relaxing weekend sailing and fishing took a turn for the worse when the owner – Peter – accidentally connected two exposed wires while cleaning below deck.

A spark jumped from the connected wires and landed in the engine bay, engulfing the area, and Peter, in flames. Despite suffering extensive burns to his lower body, he managed to reach a fire extinguisher and get the blaze under control. He then crawled into the shower, turned on the water and waited for Coastguard to arrive.

When the Coastguard volunteers reached his yacht, they found him in severe pain. The fire had caused significant burns and, by sitting under the cold water, he had started to slip into hypothermia. He was transferred to hospital and was very lucky to survive the ordeal.


As this illustrates, an onboard fire can be extremely dangerous. It’s one of the biggest hazards for boaties and, if one takes hold, the chances of getting it under control are slim. So it’s essential to maintain good fire safety practices at all times.

To minimise the fire risk, keep your vessel in ‘shipshape’ condition (no fuel/oil in the bilge), have gas/fuel lines inspected and fit smoke and gas alarms. Make sure they’re working. Ensure all heating, refrigeration and cooking appliances are properly secured and an emergency evacuation plan is in place. It is imperative the skipper and everyone on board knows how to escape in the event of a fire.

All boat owners need regularly-serviced fire extinguishers which are suitable for your type of boating and appropriate to the risks. Even small day boats should carry a fire extinguisher in case the trolling motor catches fire. A fire blanket should be mounted near the galley and crew should know how to use it.

The common types of boat fire extinguishers approved for recreational vessels include foam, dry powder, and carbon dioxide. The equipment on your boat and her construction are factors in determining which extinguishers would be the most effective. Don’t forget that a simple sturdy bucket with a robust handle may also be a useful to fight a fire.

When selecting a fire extinguisher, seek the advice of a trained professional to help you choose the best options for your boat. Using the wrong extinguishing method can make the situation worse. Know how to use the fire extinguisher and make sure it is serviced regularly.

Remember to refuel your boat at an appropriate fuelling station, rather than from portable containers which can spill, put fuel in the bilge, and slosh fuel over a hot engine. Take particular care with BBQs – make sure that flammable items are well away from the BBQ and that ‘fat flare ups’ don’t catch you by surprise.

In the event of a fire, having two forms of communication (VHF, mobile phone, EPIRB) could help avert a disaster. Obviously, there should be enough lifejackets for everyone on the boat. Make sure they are in good condition, easy to access and readily available for use in an emergency.

LEARN MORE As a skipper, you are responsible for the safety of everyone on board and for the safe operation of the vessel. A Coastguard Boating Education Day Skipper course is an introduction to boating safety and knowledge.

Visit: for more information.

Next Generation McMurdo FastFind 220 PLB

The PLB receives coordinates from the new precision satellite network in addition to the tried and tested GPS network and therefore provides ultimate reliability, accuracy and speed.

The FastFind 220 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) uses advanced technology packed into a simple, lightweight, palm sized unit. Using the dedicated 406 MHz frequency, FastFind 220 transmits your unique ID and precise location to the global network of search and rescue satellites.

The FastFind 220’s electronics design was upgraded in 2019, offering accelerated location detection with the duel GNSS capabilities — GPS & Galileo receivers. Within minutes rescuers are alerted to your situation, and receive regular position updates. Finally, emergency services can hone in on your beacon’s 121.5 MHz transmission to find you.

Explore the world with peace of mind. If you find yourself in a remote area without any other form of communication, activating your FastFind 220 will summon emergency assistance.

Features • Floats with buoyancy pouch • GPS & Galileo GNSS Receivers • No subscription • 6 year battery life • Waterproof to 10m • SOS morse LED flash light • Safe-stow antenna

Available March 2019,  RRP: $599.00

Boating at night

First tip – take it easy. Even if your boat’s carrying sophisticated navigational aids, actual visibility is very limited. Objects won’t come into view until they are fairly close, so it’s important to go slow. If you see something in the water, you’ll need enough time to stop or change course to avoid a collision.

Speeding at night can have dire consequences. Earlier this year, a boatie at Cooks Beach ploughed onto rocks while heading back to shore after a night’s fishing. He was travelling incredibly fast – and not using any navigational aids.
While it was a calm night, with no visible moon it was very dark, making it impossible to see what was ahead. The vessel smashed into the rocks and both the skipper and his friends were severely injured.
Travelling slowly – and consulting navigational aids such as a chart/radar/GPS – could have avoided the issue.
Nav lights make you visible to other boaties and help you make the right decisions and judgements relating to other vessels.
For example, you can work out if you’re overtaking someone if you only see the stern light, or if you’re crossing someone if you see a green or red light. Also, depending on the lights another boat is carrying, you’ll be able to work out if it’s a power-driven vessel, a rowboat or a yacht.

Correctly-fitted nav lights are essential, and different kinds of vessels need different types of lights. A sailing vessel is only required to display side lights (the red and green lights) and a stern light (1, 2 & 4).
Power-driven vessels must also show a white masthead light (3). But if you have a powerboat less than 12m in length, an all-round white light can replace the stern and masthead lights (3 & 4).
A power-driven vessel (e.g. dinghy) smaller than 7m whose speed does not exceed seven knots can exhibit an all-round white light.
Finding your way around a busy harbour at night usually adds an additional layer of complexity to navigation.
There are often plenty of background land lights – red, green and white – and it can be hard distinguishing channel markers and other navigation lights from land-based lights.
Note, too, that a flashing light could be a navigation mark – but it could also be a high-speed ferry.
Analysing the lights on a vessel not only help you to determine its direction of travel, but also what type of vessel it is, its length, and whether you – or it – are obliged to give way.
LEARN MORE To improve your night navigation skills, consider doing a Coastguard Boating Education Boatmaster course. Visit for more information.