Safety Upgrades
Raymarine LifeTag System
Most of my off-shore sailing has been done with just one or two other crew member.  For me this is ideal crew size for several reasons.
  1. Each of has our own cabin when in port - no one needs to sleep on one of the settees.
  2. The amount of provisions required for a long voyage is manageable.  We can count on more meals of fresh meat and vegetable than if there were one or more additional crew members.
  3. It is easier to share the various tasks required to manage an off-shore vessel without one person getting (or perceiving to get) the more menial tasks.

There are a few drawbacks (e.g., should we have to hand steer the boat for several days), but I am most comfortable with this crew size.  The one aspect of a short-handed crew that has always made me nervous is the danger of one of us falling overboard without the other being aware.  The probability of recovering an overboard crew member even with additional watch keepers is probably less than 50-50, but if the other crew members were asleep and only discovered the overboard situation after many minutes had passed - chances are just about nil.

Recently I observed the installation of the Raymarine LifeTag system on a British yacht in Lagos, PT and realized it could do a great deal to increase the probability of recovery.  In the Spring of 2007, just before Bob Calt and I departed Lagos to return to the USA I installed a LifeTag system on Sarah.

Click on picture to view at full resolutionThere are two components to the LifeTag system.  One is the the LifeTag transponder shown on the left.  Each of us wears one of these transponders when ever we are on deck.  As a matter of fact we wear them continuously while we are at sea.  They are most critical any time only one of us is in the cockpit.
Click on picture to view at full resolutionThe second component is the LifeTag base station, shown on the left.  I have two base stations on Sarah for different Raymarine wireless equipment.  The station on the right in the picture is the base station for the wireless remote autopilot control.  The station on the left in the picture is the LifeTag base station.

At the start of the voyage we register our transponders with the base station to make them active.  Should the base station lose contact with either of the transponders for more than a few seconds it will initiate a MOB alarm.  The principle alarm is the very loud horn located directly above the base station.  I guarantee this horn will wake the dead and certainly bring either one of us out of a deep sleep.

At the same time the station will initiate a MOB sequence on the Raymarine SeaTalk network.  This causes my C120 Multi-Function Display to record a MOB waypoint.

So before the other crew member has even gotten out of his bunk the C120 will have plotted the position of the vessel at the time the LifeTag system detected the lost transponder and the C120 will provide a course and distance back to the lost crew member.

Of course this system is in no way a guarantee for recovery.  So many other things can effect the ability of the remaining crew member to recover the other.  However, this system provides a significantly greater opportunity for that recovery, especially when the off-duty crew member is asleep below.