Everyone typically does a pre-launch check at the start of the season and looks over the engine and thru hulls to make sure there are no leaks. Now that the boat is at the dock it is a good time to check over the rigging—both standing and running. While you are tuning the rig, take a close look at the shrouds and turnbuckles. Check the halyards and other lines to make sure there is no excess wear and tear. It might even be a good time to put new whipping on the ends of those frayed lines.
This is also a good time of year to take a close inventory of your safety equipment. Do you have the proper life jackets for everyone who will be sailing with you? If you have inflatable PFD’s, when did you last inflate them to make sure that they still hold air? If they are the automatic ones with the “bobbin” that sets them off, is the bobbin still in good condition? If they are the hydrostatic type, is the status indicator still green and is the date still current? (Worth nothing, while preparing this column I noticed that my own PFD’s date had expired in 2018.) Do the strobe lights attached to your life jackets work? When did you last replace the batteries, if needed? While you are checking the batteries in the strobes it is a good time to look at your EPIRB and PLB to make sure they are registered with the Coast Guard and the batteries are current.
How about those flares? Check the dates on them to make sure they are still current. If you have purchased one of the approved electronic flares, make sure to check the batteries. While I think the electronic flares are a great idea and provide an excellent distress signal, there is still something about a bright rocket flare up in the sky to draw attention.
This raises another point: when was the last time you lit a handheld flare or set off a rocket flare? The time to figure out how to light a flare is not in the dark during a true emergency situation. It might be a good time to organize an event at your boat club to have a hands-on safety equipment demonstration. Check with the local USCG and/or fire department before heading out and setting off some flares; it might make someone happy.
Check your fire extinguishers as well. Is the needle in the green or in the good section? Take some time to shake it up a bit if the canister has been sitting around all winter (or longer). Do you have the right size and type of extinguisher for the boat you sail? This is another item you might want to have a day at the marina to practice with, although you may not want to start any fires during the demo. And, last but not least, take a look at your first aid kit. Do you have the “stuff’ in there that will be needed for those scraps, bruises, burns and more that can happen over the course of the season?
The Great Lakes do have some cold water – even through the entire summer. Take some time to think about the effects of cold water and hypothermia. There is some excellent information available from the National Water Safety Congress (www.watersafetycongress.org) covering what they refer to as the “3 Rs” for dealing with all levels of hypothermia: rescue, recover and rewarm. I highly recommend that everyone sailing on cold water be prepared to deal with a hypothermia victim. It can happen to someone who does not go in the water. Know the signs for each level of hypothermia and how to treat the person. Remember, it only takes a little more than a one degree loss in core body temperature for your muscle tone to begin to be affected.
The best things about sailing around our Great Lakes are the natural beauty, camaraderie, cruising, racing and more. There are local events everywhere that bring people together in groups small and large to celebrate a special day or just the moment. One of my favorite events each year is the Summer Sailstice (www.summersailstice.com). This international sailing celebration of the Summer Solstice was started in 2001. There are events around the world and more importantly all over the Great Lakes. Check it out and organize an event in your area. Enjoy the beginning of the summer season. Sail well, sail fast and sail safely while enjoying our wonderful Great Lakes.