Friday, 22 June 2012

Is Sailing a Safe Activity?

A Couple of things happened this week. First I had a visit from my insurance people trying to sell me higher and more expensive cover. (Is it insurance or assurance – what’s the difference?). Anyway, I didn’t buy any more cover from them but I did garner an interesting piece of information. They asked me if I took part in any risk sports or activities. I said, I didn’t think so but I did go sailing, often alone and frequently up to twenty or thirty miles offshore. The insurance guy told me that this was acceptable within the current terms of my cover and that sailing is not considered to be high risk.

Now I have always agreed with this view. In fact I would go so far as to say that you are probably in more danger of accident in your car on the way to the marina or harbour than when you are on the boat.

Now, the second thing that happened this week, was that I found myself trawling through old boating magazines looking for pictures and articles about Westerly 22’s. I didn’t find many but, I was struck by the number of articles which seem designed to put you right off this apparently safe sailing activity altogether. Yachting Monthly, has a ‘confessional’ where guys write in and explain how they nearly kill themselves on their boats. Practical Boat Owner has a ‘learning from experience’ piece in which amateur sailors recount near disasters and then, with hindsight, explain what they did wrong. Throughout the sailing media, journalists write articles designed to unsettle you – ‘Lifejackets are they Safe?’,Could you handle a force ten?’ Come on do you want people to go sailing or not?

Safety at sea is very important but lets not get carried away. As a Englishman, who spends most of his time in Jersey or France, I get a very interesting view of the way small boat safety is viewed in different jurisdictions. The English have a tradition that anyone can put to sea. It is one of the inherent characteristics of English individual freedom. The Europeans however, are increasingly moving down the licensing route. Yes you can have a boat, just like you can have a car but you must prove you can handle her.

The EU now has categorised boats according to their build and equipment and each boat has a cruising limit from sheltered waters to Deep Ocean. The UK, as a member state of the European Union now has the same regulations applied to its boats but for many years argued against this. The English view was that safety came from trained and experienced seafarers rather than boat design. The argument, I suppose, was that a trained and experienced seafarer would check the boat before departure and use her appropriately.

Now Jersey is not a member of the EU and so none of this applies in local waters. If you want to make a trip to France or the UK however, you need to comply.

What has all this to do with me buying a boat? Well, firstly I’m not going to let the Yachting Press put me off with their scary articles and secondly, I need to understand more About the EU small craft directives and regulations. I’d hate to purchase a vessel and then have some European Bureaucrat tell me I can't use it!