No matter how competent you are – or how many times you’ve sailed your local spot – PLEASE – don’t take safety for granted. The local community where I live has tragically lost two friends to the sea over the last few years. Competent sailors who have drowned while partaking in the sport we all love. Please do these simple things. 1) Support your local RNLI – we forget how valuable they are until we NEED them 2) Always sail with a BUDDY and tell someone when you will be back 3) Consider purchasing a PLB – a GPS equipped Personal Location Beacon. If the worst were ever to happen – activate it and SEARCH and RESCUE will know precisely where you are.
Sailing in Coastal Waters – don’t rely on a phone signal
The Strava images below show where me and my Norfolk windsurf / kiteboard friends sail. The bank we go out to on a LOW tide for some wave action is 2 miles from land. The “speed strip” we use in a Southerly gale is 1.5 miles offshore. Hunstanton isn’t quite Southend – but like Southend – once you’re out there, you’re pretty much on your own. I hit the sandbank as the tide was flooding back in at nearly 30 knots – full speed catapult – straight over the handlebars. You can see where I crashed – the CHEQUERED FLAG. Just me, two other windsurfers, my carbon boom snapped on both sides! It’s nearly 2 miles back to Hunstanton beach. It’s 4pm and our sandbank is rapidly being covered with water as the tide floods in.
At this point I could have panicked – but I knew I had my “safety kit” in my rucksack (actually an ultra-running vest). I didn’t need to – but if necessary, I could have used CHANNEL 16 on my UHF to contact the Lifeboat, I could have set off a smoke flare to tell people where I was and, worst case scenario, I could have activated my PLB. Thankfully – none of that was necessary as Tom and Steve helped me pack down my kit, drag, run, walk, swim, walk, swim back to the shore.
My Offshore Safety Kit
What you see below is what I take out with me EVERY time I windsurf. It all fits neatly in an ULTRA-running vest. I also have half a litre of water in the bladder – just in case. Most my sailing friends know I have this on my – if anything happens – they can find me and we can get help!
Contents of Back Pack
- PLB – Personal Life Beacon
- VHF/UHF Radio (you need a licence to operate one of these – check the RYA here for details)
- 2 x Smoke Flares (for day use)
- 2 x Parachute Night flares
- A rescue knife (with rounded safety tip)
- 1.5 metres of downhaul line
A PLB – when the worst case scenario happens
A Personal Life Beacon is the very best way to protect yourself when out at sea. It doesn’t rely on any LOCAL signals or networks. A PLB uses the COSPAS-SARSAT Global Satellite System to send out a distress signal. This SOS message is sent over 406 MHz – a frequency reserved explicitly for distress calls. It’s a GLOBAL system unaffected by weather, location or war. The MARINE style PLB’s we (Norfolk windsurfers) all use also utilize the 121.5 MHz frequency. This is used like a homing beacon – rescuers can be guided within 100 meters or less of your location.