Protect Your Sailing Crew with this Magic Black Box

Captain John of www.skippertips.com shares one intriguing method of ensuring your safety at sea.

Have you heard of the benefits of adding “cash” to your invisible black box? Forget about other fancy types of marine insurance. If you don’t have enough points in this magic box, you could be sailing into harm’s way!

One of America’s most famous boating authors, John Vigor, came up with a nifty theory on how to play the winning hand when things go wrong on your boat. Maybe you have to weather a storm or seek help for an injured crew member.

In a nutshell, each time you put in the effort to make seaman-like preparations before, during, and after getting underway, you get to deposit a point into an imaginary black box.

Now, all of us sailors have one of these black boxes. But the amount of points in each box varies from person to person. In the end, it’s up to each sailing skipper to keep adding points to his or her black box.

Down the road, when something unexpected occurs, points are withdrawn (by Neptune or his minions) from your box in sufficient number to carry you through the crisis. That is, if you have enough points on deposit!

Sail long enough and things will happen that weren’t planned for. That roller furling headsail drum that always worked like a champ, jams when you least expect it.

Or maybe tonight’s the night when your 35 pound CQR (it never dragged before!) decides it’s time to exit the bottom the moment the wind shifts.

Or perhaps you’ve put off changing out the fuel filter (but small boat diesels are reliable, aren’t they?). The engine coughs, dies, and won’t start. Now you’re stranded!

How to Make a Deposit

When you take the time and effort to check, inspect, repair, refurbish, or replace some piece of boat gear in a seaman-like manner, you earn a point. That priceless point goes into your personal black box for future use (see below). Your goal should be to accumulate as many of these points as possible.

Here are some examples of how you can add points to your black box:

* Check your roller furling gear before you get underway. Look inside the drum to check for knots or jams. Follow the furling line from the drum all the way back to the cockpit. If it has the slightest bit of chafe, replace it now.
–Deposit one point

* Put out another anchor if you suspect that the current or wind might shift during the night. Yes, it’s a pain–so do it anyway.
–Deposit one point

* Change out fuel filters religiously–before they’re due for replacement. Small boat diesels don’t tolerate even a speck of dirt. Carry one or two spares. And learn to bleed your diesel; you will need to do this after any fuel filter change.
–Deposit one point

* Carry paper charts to back up your electronic chart plotter, GPS, or other techno-wonder machine. Yes, they are expensive, but you are only one spark away from being without any electronics. Buy the charts.
–Deposit one point

* Reef your mainsail as soon as you sight white caps to windward. No hesitation here; just do it. Sail reefing is a cinch in moderate weather. In a howling gale, it’s wet, exhausting, and downright dangerous.
–Deposit one point

Automatic Withdrawal When You Need It

As long as you have enough points in your box, they will be automatically “withdrawn” when you need them. According to the theory, these points will provide a safety net to protect you when the unexpected comes your way.

For example, if you find yourself in heavy weather, a good accumulation of points will help you and your sailing crew pull through safe and sound.

It all boils down to preparation. Prepare well enough ahead of time and when things start to get dicey, your points could help you out of the mess. Which makes good sense in my mind. After all, the recipe for good seamanship has always been and always will be 90% preparation and 10% execution.

As a small cruising boat skipper, make it your goal to stay one step ahead of the unexpected. Use John Vigor’s Black Box Theory to guide you so that you are ready for whatever may come your way.

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