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Monday, April 09, 2018


Envoy is berthed in Greece's Lefkas Marina while Diane and I are home in Auckland. We're not planning any Med cruising this year.

The recent tragic loss of British Volvo Ocean Race competitor John Fisher should have reminded all cruisers of the dangers involved in falling overboard and here are some thoughts on dealing with these situations based on my experiences over many years both as a cruiser and as a Coastguard skipper, crew member and search and rescue controller.
Man overboard situations can range from the hilarious, when friends fall overboard in anchorages with no harm done except to their pride, to the horribly tragic where the victim doesn't survive. 
In some of the latter situations it has been the skipper going over and the crew left aboard not having the knowledge to turn their vessel around and conduct a search, particularly in the case of sailing vessels. 
Even some cases of people falling overboard in marinas or at anchor have ended tragically either as a result of injury causing the victim to drown, or the inability of the victim to haul himself/herself out of the water, or the inability of those aboard to haul the victim out of the water. In these cases exposure and hypothermia are often the cause of death.

Safety Briefings
I'm sure we're all guilty of this at times – it's a beautiful day and our friends arrive on board with fun foremost in mind. We tell them how to use the heads but that vital safety briefing about life jackets, fire extinguishers, first aid kits and man overboard drill is forgotten. 
Even some professionals overlook this; I've been out on a weekend commercial fishing charter and noticed there was no safety briefing of any kind. In reality this may not be too much of a problem provided that the skipper's there to take charge of an emergency, but who's going to take charge and handle a situation where the skipper is the victim?
So during a safety briefing it's essential to cover the basics of responding to a man overboard situation.
This starts with prevention and no crew member should venture onto the foredeck, side decks or boarding platform while the vessel is under way without the skipper's prior knowledge and then he/she should be under constant observation and wearing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD) equipped with light, whistle and personal locator beacon (PLB).
Anyone observing someone falling in should immediately shout loudly “man overboard”, make sure they've been heard and continue to keep their eyes on the victim as well as pointing to him/her because if the observer is distracted it may prove difficult to re-establish visual contact. 
Somebody must throw a life ring or some other flotation device such as a large fender into the water serving not only to potentially support the victim in the water but to mark his/her approximate position. This should be done even if the victim can't be seen as it will mark one limit of the search area.
The briefing also needs to appoint someone to take charge of the vessel should it be the skipper who goes overboard and then to make sure that person knows how to respond in terms of controlling the vessel and managing the situation.

Managing a man overboard situation
You can divide these emergencies into two categories, that is where you can and can't see the victim.

1. You can see the victim:
The more competent people you have aboard the easier it is to manage this and provided that it's a crew member overboard (not the skipper) and that visual contact is maintained a speedy resolution is likely.
Unless it's completely obvious the victim will be safely recovered within a very few minutes a distress call (Mayday) should be made on VHF radio's international distress frequency channel 16, particularly if there are other circumstances like rough conditions, cold water or the victim may need medical attention. There's no doubt it's always a much better decision to transmit a distress call sooner than may be needed and cancel it after a successful resolution than to wish you had made it when the situation starts to go horribly wrong. Ideally you then need a crew member to handle the radio traffic since the responding coast station and responding vessels will divert your attention from the immediate task of picking up the victim. Many coast stations seem to have a system that requires answers to lots of questions, many of which seem irrelevent and time wasting at this crucial point when every minute counts. 
If other crew members are available they could be directed to eyeball the victim, prepare a flotation device with a line attached for use in recovering the victim and a fit person could don a PFD and be ready to enter the water if the victim needs assistance (which is often the case). 
It is normal to approach the victim from leeward so that the vessel isn't driven by wind and waves over the victim and when recovering the victim make sure there is no risk of injury from the vessel's propeller(s).
2. You can't see the victim
This is always an extremely serious situation and you should immediately record your lat/long, activate the MOB button on your chart plotter and make a VHF radio distress call. 
The complexity of the ensuing search depends on whether it's day or night time, weather conditions. general visibility, sea state and current, tidal flow, whether the victim was wearing a lifejacket or PFD with light and/or personal locator beacon (PLB), elapsed time since last sighting, whether a constant course has been kept since then and your distance from assisting resources such as dedicated rescue craft and helicopters. These resources generally carry search aids such as night vision binoculars, powerful spotlights and thermal detection equipment, greatly increasing the chances of finding a victim.
Rescue helicopters can also drop flotation devices to the victim, put a rescue swimmer in the water, lift the victim from the water, provide paramedic assistance and transport the victim quickly to hospital.
Once a coast radio station has responded to your distress call they will take responsibility for organising the search or pass this responsibility to another competent authority, for example Police, Coastguard or a Rescue Coordination Centre (in New Zealand this is RCCNZ). This task is much better accomplished by such an organisation using a stable platform with all the information resources on hand and experience in managing such situations. 
Using the facts you provide they will then establish an area of probability and direct both your own and other responding vessels on how to conduct the search. This takes time and depending on your location it will also take time for responding resources (pleasure craft, commercial craft, rescue vessels, helicopters etc) to reach you.
While waiting it would be a good idea to organise your available crew as for the first example and proceed slowly (e.g. about 5 knots) to search on a reciprocal course, for example if you were cruising to the west on a course of 270d, now proceed to the east on a course of 90d. If conditions allow you may be able to listen for your victim calling out for help.
More than likely you have a GPS plotter which will be displaying your original course line. 
Now follow that exact course back. Depending on your own knowledge you may decide to adjust this course for tide and current. In any case ensure you keep a record of the area searched.
If the victim has a PLB remember that its lat/long is transmitted to the rescue authority (in New Zealand RCCNZ), not to you and they will direct the nearest resource to that position.
Remember that victims can survive a surprisingly long time in the water so keep searching and don't give up hope.

Look for a further posting in about 10 days.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018


Envoy is berthed in Greece's Lefkas Marina and we're home in Auckland. We don't plan to cruise aboard Envoy this year.

This is the last part of an article we wrote published in Australasia's Pacific PassageMaker magazine about starting the live-aboard cruising life.

What equipment is desirable for the live-aboard boat
Bear in mind the cruising experience is the thing – it's what you do with your boat that will make this experience, not whether it's 43ft or 46ft, whether it has teak or GRP decks or a particular brand of navigation equipment.
Having said that, we're assuming readers of this article aspire to a reasonable level of comfort as opposed to camping on the sea.

Envoy's master bedroom - we don't just camp on the sea but live rather well aboard

A live-aboard vessel often cruises beyond the easy reach of regular service and spare parts providers and bearing in mind the boating adage that everything that can go wrong will eventually go wrong she needs to be engineered for maximum reliability with redundancy of systems and a well-planned inventory of chandlery, tools, key spare parts as well as an operation manual and documentation covering equipment carried aboard. Even if (like me) you're not an engineer, you can generally get assistance with problems if you have the necessary tools, parts and information.

Envoy's pilothouse has all the manuals needed to run and maintain the vessel

Fuel supply
Most diesel engine problems are fuel-related so this is an area to pay particular attention. Boats have a primary (before engine) fuel filter, and a secondary (on engine) filter. You can enhance this by having a system for filtering (or “polishing”) fuel into one tank (often known as a “day tank”) which will then supply the primary filter(s) and run the engine(s). This tank is kept reasonably full from the storage tanks using the polishing system and also accepts the filtered return fuel from the engine(s).
Envoy for example has a Racor-based polishing system which filters about 10 litres/minute through a 2 micron cartridge and in 10 years of ownership we've not encountered any kind of fuel contamination.
Large capacity dual primary filters able to be interchanged under way and fitted with a vacuum gauge and moisture detector will also help minimise problems.
Fuel tanks should have generous-sized removable inspection ports to allow periodic cleaning if required.

Envoy's fuel manifold controls diesel filtration ensuring a clean fuel supply

A generator is desirable so that power is available when anchored for long periods.
The house battery bank should be deep cycle with sufficient amp hour capacity for the equipment carried. The start bank should not be deep cycle and dedicated to starting the engines. Both banks should have isolating switches and the banks should be connectable using a parallel switch in case of low voltage in the start bank.
All circuits should be protected using circuit breakers. Having an electrical circuit diagram is a big advantage.
Other desirable equipment is a high capacity engine alternator with a “smart” regulating system, a battery charger able to operate from both generator and shorepower and an inverter to produce AC from the house bank.

Envoy's 150 amp Balmar alternator

Ground tackle
To anchor in remote areas, sometimes in adverse weather it's essential to have a main anchor, spare anchors, all-chain rode and windlass appropriate to the size of vessel with a minimum of 100 metres of chain. Do not compromise in this area.

Water and sewage
Potable water is often not readily available overseas so ample fresh water storage is required, preferably in more than one tank. Sewage holding tanks are essential and it's a good idea to have a diverting valve on your head which can either discharge sewage directly into the sea when well offshore, or into the holding tank when close to shore.

 A stove with at least three burners is desirable together with a medium sized oven. We prefer lpg to electric so that we don’t need to run a generator to use the stove. Diane says our microwave is nice to have, but not necessary.

Envoy's stove and oven

An effective high storage capacity refrigerator and freezer is essential - you've got to keep the beer cold! I don’t advocate refrigeration powered solely from the house battery as refrigeration generally causes by far the largest current draw and these systems are always chasing battery charge. Our system uses AC from the generator.

Stabilisers are highly desirable for a displacement monohull vessel and we recommend as a minimum having paravane (passive) stabilisers. Although these are not pretty they are very robust and reliable and with this system you can also use flopper-stoppers to reduce roll when anchored. Hydraulic (active) stabilisers are more effective, but expensive to maintain and prone to occasional failure while most hydraulic systems don't help at anchor. Envoy has both of these systems.
Gyro systems are also highly effective, but less common and generally found on larger vessels.

Safety equipment
Of course you must ensure the vessel has, or will be equipped with all obvious safety equipment including an approved self-inflating liferaft if venturing offshore.

Many live-aboard vessels have large heavy tenders, which are only able to be launched or retrieved in calm conditions using a boom winch or a hoist. Our 3.7m RHIB with 25hp outboard is excellent, but we also value our much lighter 2.7m RHIB with a 2.3hp outboard, able to be launched by hand. Remember that for most coastal cruising vessels the tender is the liferaft so should be well-equipped and easily launched.

Your tender generally doubles as liferaft in coastal cruising - we carry two

Air conditioning and heating
Although Envoy has reverse cycle air conditioning we rarely use it as to work effectively all doors, windows and portholes need to be closed and the engine or generator needs to be running. Heating options need to be considered if wintering afloat in cold conditions.

It's so inconvenient and expensive to get laundry done when cruising that we regard a washing machine as essential. It will soon pay for itself in saved laundry costs and remember that the first mate has to be happy too!

Surveying your vessel and final negotiations
Unless you are a boat builder or similarly qualified it's essential to engage a qualified surveyor (who acts for and is paid by the buyer). This applies to all pre-owned vessels, but should also be considered for new vessels as these are not immune from poor practice. Surveyors not only have considerable technical expertise, but follow a logical documented process for a thorough examination of the vessel and are totally objective whereas the excited buyer might overlook or downplay some negative issues. A recent survey is also helpful when insuring your vessel.

Now enjoy your vessel
Before heading to sea for the first time spend a few days thoroughly familiarising yourselves with your vessel. Know where all equipment is stowed, how it works, where the different seacocks are etc.

In the wake of the tragic loss of a Volvo Ocean Race competitor our next post discusses how to manage a man overboard situation on a cruising boat.