FAQ – What if something happens to the captain?

marcie at helm.JPG

I’ve had two discussions this past week with women who’d like to go cruising, but worry they’re not capable enough to handle an emergency in which their captain is unable to sail the boat and they’re miles from help. “What happens if something happens to the captain?”, they ponder and worry … and rightly so. Admittedly, this was one of my great concerns when we first set out and I’ve since participated in many seminars and women’s forums to discuss this very issue. It’s probably the #1 concern expressed by current and would-be female cruisers.

I’m by no means the expert, nor do I claim to be. David will always be the better, more intuitive sailor, yet I feel that I have the skills, confidence and know-how necessary to get us to safety if the need arose. Knowledge, preparation and prudence all work towards preparing for an emergency. Here are 8 things you can do to prepare for passage emergencies … with or without your captain.

1. Prepare yourself for medical emergencies. Take classes in emergency first aid and CPR. Make sure you have a good medical kit aboard. There are companies that specialize in first aid kits for passagemakers plus your own physician can usually come up with a list of what he would suggest for a long passage. Make sure your kit stays up to date and gets replenished as needed.

2. Insist on regular health and dental check-ups. Emergencies may crop up, but knowing that you’re healthy when you leave avoids preventable catastrophes.

3. Join a women’s sailing group to gain confidence in your abilities without comment from the captain. There are several all-women groups that concentrate on learning and honing sailing skills, as well as specific women’s issues aboard.

4. Learn about your boat … basic sail handling, engine on/off, navigation, electronics that get you from here to there (GPS/chartplotter, etc). Make sure equipment/gear is labeled and operating instructions and documentation are clear and up-to-date. Don’t worry about oil changes and maintenance or repairs if that’s not your thing, but figure out what you’d need to do until you could get help. 

5. Know the safety procedures on your boat. Practice man-overboard drills; how does the Life Sling work? how/when would you deploy the life raft, if necessary. How does the EPIRB work? Where is it located? Is it registered and up-to-date with NOAA? 

6. Know the communication options aboard. Do you have a Sat phone and can you use it? What about the VHF? Single sideband? Do you have a registered MMSI number and do you know how/when to push that little red button on your VHF?

7. Be involved in pre-departure plans, checks and routes. Know where you’re going and how you plan to get there. Follow a pre-departure checklist and rest assured that the boat and the crew are good to go.

8. Be proactive. Discuss “what if” scenarios with the captain? Make contingency plans before setting out.  Figure out what you need to know and do in case of emergency.

I’d love to hear from other women out there. Have you ever had this concern? If so, how did you handle it? What did you do to prepare yourself for an unfortunate incident/accident in which you would be left to handle the boat and be responsible for getting you, your crew and your boat to safety?

Thanks Carol and Martine for inspiring me to write about this very relevant blog topic.