Here’s another great cruising tip from our friend Capt. John of skippertips.com…
Look over most production sailboats or powerboats today, and you can bet you will see a lack of grab rails. I believe this could rank right up there with the worst safety violations around. We are told we shouldn’t sail without personal flotation devices, safety harnesses, EPIRB, survival flares or life rafts.
But sailors sailed for centuries without all that stuff–so heavily marketed in today’s sailing world. I believe lack of “grab rails” below or above deck can lead to injury or an overboard emergency faster than you can blink an eye.
Your body was built for survival. What do you do any time you feel you are about to slip and fall? You reach out to grab something, brace yourself, or break the fall. Same thing happens on a boat. And small sail or power-boats heel, roll, pitch, rock and roll in a seaway.
Many a time I’ve reached out and grabbed “air” below decks in the cabin of a sailboat. Dinky segments of grab rail here and there don’t cut it. You need long, continuous lengths of rail all around in every compartment–galley, cabin, head, shower and berthing spaces.
Inspect your own small sailboat above and below deck. You and your sailing crew or partner should have “grabbable” overhead rails that run in a continuous, unbroken path from the companionway ladder to the forward cabin (or V-berth area).
Include vertical grab rails in areas like the galley, head and shower. Install verticals on each side of the commode and shower stall. A person should be able to brace themselves at all times.
Topside, you might have lifelines, but what about “grabbables” atop your cabin trunk or near the mast? Reef a mainsail and you will want to brace yourself to keep your hands free. Think of different ways to make this tough task easier.
Install handrails on the bottom of any hard dinghy that may be carried on deck for cruising. This may sound strange, but your “dink” will be turtled with her bottom up and lashed onto the deck. Bottom mounted handholds provide one more place for safety. And, if you are underway in the dink and she capsizes, bottom mounted handholds will provide a place to hang on and will help you right the dink.
Double-ended lifeboats on many ships come standard with handholds on the bottom just in case they capsize. In an abandon ship scenario, some lifeboats may capsize when being lowered. Hand holds provide crew and passengers a way to hold on until they can be rescued.
Avoid the temptation to use hand hold areas as a storage area. You sometimes see cruising boat grab-rails used as mountings for boat hooks, fish-net bags, or fishing poles. Keep grab-rails “free and clear” of gear for their #1 single, intended purpose–to provide you and your sailing crew or partner with a hand hold you can bet your life on day or night, in docile or dicey weather!
Worried about the cost of expensive teak rails? Save a ton of money when you install handicap grab rails below. These robust rails can often be purchased for a fraction of the cost of teak. Once installed, cover them with rope fancy-work (like coachwhipping) for beauty, protection, and to provide a better non-slip grip for you and your sailing crew or partner.
Sources of Supply
These vendors offer a good price on alternative grab-rails
Inspect your small sailboat to see if she could use more hand holds above or below deck. Keep your sailing crew or partner safe and sound this sailing season–wherever in the world you choose to sail or cruise!