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RNLI Sea Safety

Sea safety advice

The RNLI believes, and its service return information confirms, that a very large majority of lifeboats services can be attributed to a group of reasons, which can be summarised, as preventative activities. 
We hope to bring your attention to these and other pieces of advice through these pages and continually develop new ways of delivering safety advice in an interactive and informative method.
1.  Wear a lifejacket
2.  Check your engine and fuel
3.  Tell others where you are going
4.  Carry some means of calling for help
5.  Keep an eye on weather and tides
6.  Get proper training, and boat within your limits
There are many other pieces of advice related to boating safety that are covered within the CD-ROM of Sea Safety, The Complete Guide, available free from or 0800 328 0600 (UK) or 1800 789 589 (RoI)

MOB techniques
MOB rescue techniques
View MOB techniques

Frequently asked questions
What do I do with out-of-date flares? Why do I need a DSC radio? What is a try sail? Find out the answers to these and many more frequently asked questions in this section.  Also includes links to other sites with more detailed information
Find out more

Wear a lifejacket
Given the circumstances in which people may find themselves in the water, certainly without the time to don a lifejacket, it makes sense to wear one all the time.  A lifejacket will keep you afloat long enough for those adjacent to the MOB to effect a rescue, or even until the arrival of the SAR services.  You never know when you are going to find yourself in the water; a small error can often result in a tragedy.
Of all the bodies that the RNLI have pulled from the water, precious few are wearing lifejackets, those that are have died from secondary causes, and certainly all casualties would have had their survival prolonged to allow the search part of SAR to take place.
Any employer whose employees are engaged in maritime activity insist that they wear lifejackets, because their liability means that they will have conducted a risk assessment, and have concluded that wearing a lifejacket will mitigate the risk.
The RNLI feels it is risky to specify conditions were it is appropriate or not to wear a lifejacket, as it is better to err on the side of caution, knowing that inevitably somebody will drown because they felt they had not been told that they should wear lifejacket.  It is better to promote an uncompromising message, in the knowledge that individuals will make their own decisions about whether they or their colleagues should wear lifejacket based on their attitude to risk, and their evaluation of the conditions.
Wearing a correctly fitted lifejacket improves survival times, and improves morale and hence the chance of survival of the casualty.
The fitting of a lifejacket is slightly different to a buoyancy aid.  Always make sure you choose a lifejacket that fits comfortably over your normal sailing clothes and is fully adjustable.  Spend time adjusting the straps so that you can place your fist between the buckle and yourself with no other gaps.  Too big a gap and the lifejacket will be loose when in the water; too small a gap may be uncomfortable.  Look for additions such as a spray hood, light, whistle and crutch straps that it all goes towards making your own personal survival lifejacket should the worst happen and you fall over board.

The buoyancy of the lifejacket is measured in Newtons and there are typically 3 classes of lifejacket:

100N - designed for sheltered use and/or weak swimmers.  Will NOT turn an unconscious casualty face up.
150N - designed for coastal sailing and if fitted correctly will turn an unconscious casualty face up.
175N - designed for offshore use and/or use with lots of clothes. 
Check your engine and fuel
All research seems to indicate that engine failure is responsible for a significant proportion of incidents.  The RNLI knows this from its records, and the MCA similarly is aware of the issues.  Running out of fuel is also a common cause of service and fits neatly with engine maintenance as a simple safety message.
If you have an engine in your craft then we would strongly recommend that you know the basics of starting, running and maintaining it.  Appropriate spares should be carried on board and fuel should be calculated on approximately 1/3 for the outward trip, 1/3 for the return and 1/3 as spare.  Do not reply on fuel gauges as these have been know to be faulty. 
Where possible, an alternative means of propulsion should be carried.  Engine failure alone is not a distress situation: it does not warrant a Mayday call or the use of flares unless lack of power has put the boat and crew in grave and imminent danger. 
The RYA runs a one-day diesel maintenance course that aims to give the boat owner the basics. 
Tell others where you are going
Very often a vessel being overdue precipitates the start of an incident.  The immediate problem therefore is to know where to start the search pattern, and knowledge of the likely area can increase chances of a successful rescue.
This principle can even apply to those using sea kayaks and smaller types of craft, when knowledge of at least a locale can increase chances of survival.  Larger vessels are encouraged to use the CG 66 form and give the coastguard passage information that achieves the same result.  These forms can be found on the UK Coastguards web site or the Irish Coast Guards web site
Smaller craft can get in to the habit of informing someone ashore of their intended trip and give a return time as well.
Knowing where you are is also an advantage.  By keeping your charts up to date and learning about basic navigations skills, it will increase your chances of not going aground on sandbanks or rocks that have been posted out on regular notices to mariners. 

Carry some means of calling for help
Even in crowded waters and close to the shore it may be that a life-threatening incident goes unnoticed.  A boat may be drifting onto a lee shore, may have had an onboard injury, have had engine or rigging failure, and vessels close-by may be completely unaware.  This can also apply to those on windsurf boards, kayaks etc.
The ability to be able to call for help, by some means or another, is imperative.
For a sports boat or craft that intends to travel coastal waters we would recommend a fixed VHF DSC radio as the aerial and power will allow for greater distance in communication.  If you intend to use the boat for inland use then you could opt for a handheld VHF radio or have both.  Whilst handheld’s might not have the range a fixed radio does, it could double up as an emergency spare in your sports cruiser.  If you are choosing a handheld unit then consider a waterproof version (if not you will need a waterproof bag for it).

When choosing a VHF unit, bear in mind the licence needed as well as the operator’s licence that is required.  The Short Range Certificate (SRC) course will teach you how to use the new DSC functions if you are not already aware this can be found at  Licences are available from (although the rules changed recently issuing a licence for life). 
Flares nowadays are used as a back up to your primary method of calling for help and come in a variety of types.
- Red flares are used for night or poor visibility and come in either a large parachute rocket, visible up to 28 miles or, a handheld red flare visible for approx 5-7 miles for more coastal sailing.
- Orange smoke flares are used in daytime and come in either a canister for offshore use or a handheld version for more coastal use.
- White handheld flares are used for collision avoidance and should be kept separate from other flares to avoid confusion.
- Personal flares are also available and are available as a double ended day and night flare, and also a pack of mini-rocket flares ideal for coastal use.
If you windsurf, kayak or depending on your craft and how far you go out to sea, the RNLI would recommend you carry at least the minimum requirement as stated in the RYA’s Boat Safety Handbook.  If you windsurf, kayaks or go to sea in a small craft, then opt for the smaller personal flares and make sure you keep them in a waterproof container.
Prices are dependant on the chandleries you buy them from.  Some useful links to help are:

Mobile phones are not an effective means of calling for help for a number of reasons:
- Not waterproof
- Signal is not guaranteed and large amounts of 'black spots'
- Only one person can hear you call for help (if you have a signal!)
- The search and rescue authorities cannot pinpoint your position with a mobile phone signal.

In summary then, flares are a good back up to your primary source of calling for help and are worth carrying.  If all you have is a mobile phone then just be aware of its limitations but we would strongly recommend a VHF marine radio.

Keep an eye on weather and tides

Weather, especially adverse weather, can spoil a day.  It can change such that conditions that were comfortable can be uncomfortable or even threatening.  This is equally true for those on short or long passages, and knowledge of likely weather changes is an essential precaution that needs to be taken.  Always check the weather forecast before you set off.  Get regular updates if you are planning to be out for any length of time.  Be prepared to change your plans or cancel the trip if the forecast is unfavourable.
In addition to national and local radio and TV forecasts, here is a selection of the best places to get weather information.
• Shipping forecasts on BBC Radio 4 LW only (1515m, 198KHz)
• HM Coastguard broadcasts weather forecasts on VHF radio on various channels following an announcement on Ch16
• Met Office online
• Many harbour and marina offices display a written forecast
• Marinecall mobile services via SMS, MMS or WAP – details online
• Navtext receivers provide printed forecasts and navigational information from radio signals.
Republic of Ireland
• The Irish Meterological Service online
• Weatherdial: 1550 123 855
• Weatherfax: 1570 131 838
• Irish Coast Guard weather forecasts are broadcast on each Coast Guard radio station's normal working channel following an announcement on VHF Ch16.
It is very important to ensure that your plans fit in with the tidal predictions for the day of your trip.
• Most slipways and launch sites are tidal.  Check the times of high and low water and assess how they will affect your trip when you launch and later head for home. 
• If the tide turns to wind-against-tide direction, the sea may become much rougher. 
• An ebbing tide may create dangerous areas of shallow water
• Check whether it will be a neap or spring tide. 
• Beware of harbour entrances where tidal currents can be quite severe. 
• For a comprehensive tidal prediction service visit the EasyTide link at
For more information on weather and tides or safety information in general visit and follow the link for the Complete Safety Guide.
SEA Check

Boating should be fun
Every year our lifeboats respond to thousands of incidents, many of which could have been prevented with simple safety precautions.  Even the most experienced seafarers should prepare for the worst.
The RNLI can help make your boat as safe as possible – you owe it to yourself and your crew.
Book a SEA Check online today
The RNLI would like to offer you a completely free, friendly and confidential service that looks at safety aspects involved with your boat.  SEA Check is neither a test nor an inspection and there is no pass or fail.  Conducted by one of our highly trained volunteers, SEA Check is a personal face-to-face safety advice service that takes place on board your own craft.  You set the time and we tailor our visit to your vessel and the type of boating that you do.
Whether you’re a newcomer, or an experienced boater, our unique one-to-one service will give you an opportunity to ask any niggling questions on equipment or emergency procedures.  To help you safely on your way we also provide a pack of free publications to ensure that next time you go afloat you are more prepared.
What are the benefits?
* A free independent check of safety equipment.
* An opportunity to discuss safety matters.
* The satisfaction of completing a check.
* A sticker showing your boat has completed the check.
* Your copy of the check form, which may attract further benefits.
* Helping the RNLI in its core activity of saving lives at sea.

Is SEA Check really free?
Absolutely! The RNLI believe that prevention is better than cure and we want to make sure that everyone gets the right advice.  So the whole SEA Check service, even the phone call, is free.
It doesn’t matter where you live in the UK or the Republic of Ireland this important free service is available at your convenience and to anyone who goes to sea in almost any type of leisure craft.  So what are you waiting for? CHECK IT OUT! Call us today on Freefone UK: 0800 328 0600 or IRE 1800 789 589, or click here to apply for a SEA Check online.
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