Yacht sailing: View from onboard a yacht at sea

Yacht sailing and motorboating

Whether you race or cruise, every day afloat is an adventure. Even on the shortest trips you can get caught out, so it pays to be prepared. Here are our tips to get you to your destination safely.
Yacht sailing: Crew enjoying being out on the water

Photo: RNLI / Nathan Williams

Useless unless worn

The sea is an amazing environment, but it’s a challenging one. Accidents happen and you, or your crew, can end up in the water unexpectedly. Our lifeboat crews will respond immediately. But we’re not always close by.

Wearing a lifejacket will buy you precious time until help arrives. Correctly fitted and maintained, a lifejacket will help you to float even if you’re unconscious. It dramatically increases your chances of survival if you fall into the water. If you’re in the sea and you’re wearing a lifejacket, you’re four times more likely to survive. Read our handy guide Choose it wear it: the RNLI guide to lifejackets and buoyancy aids.

Take care of your lifejacket

Look after your lifejacket and it will look after you. It could save your life. As our video explains, simple regular checks and a professional annual service will ensure your lifejacket stays in working order.

Lifejacket clinic at Fowey Lifeboat Station

Lifejacket clinics

We will always do our best to get to you when you’re in trouble on the water. But did you know, we can assist in other ways too? Like providing an expert, independent check of your lifejacket to make sure it’s working properly. To find out more about RNLI lifejacket clinics and our other free safety services, click on the link below.

Using a lifejacket locker at Buckler’s Hard

Lifejacket lockers

We recommend you wear your lifejacket unless it's safe to take it off. This includes accessing boats from dinghies, tenders or even pontoons. To help you, we’ve installed lockers at convenient coastal locations, which you’re free to use at any time. There’s no booking – the lockers operate on a first come-first served basis. You’ll just need a small refundable deposit to use them. Find out more by clicking on the link below.

Yacht sailing: Crew member at the helm of a yacht talking into a handheld radio

Photo: RNLI / Nathan Williams

Calling for help

Life-threatening incidents can happen at any time. Even in crowded waters close to the shore they can go unnoticed. So it’s important that you always carry a means of calling for help, and that everyone onboard knows how to use it.

There’s a range of different devices for calling for help on the market. Whichever you choose – and we recommend you use more than one – you must be able to reach it easily in an emergency. Don’t rely on a single method of calling for help.

Download our leaflet Calling for help (PDF 570KB).

Read ocean sailor Pip Hare’s review of the various calling for help products on the market (July 2016).

Yacht sailing: Crew at the helm

Photo: RNLI / Nathan Williams

Training

Many accidents at sea happen because people try to do too much before they’re ready. So be honest with yourself about your sailing knowledge and ability.

The best places to look for suitable courses and qualifications for recreational boating are the governing bodies – the RYA (Royal Yachting Association) in the UK and the ISA (Irish Sailing Association) in Ireland. You’ll find full details on their websites.

In the UK, more than 240,000 people complete RYA training courses every year. They range from absolute beginners to those looking to extend their sailing knowledge. Courses such as these can prepare you for anything, whether it’s for taking your first trip out of the marina, living onboard, coastal cruising or venturing further offshore.

Whatever boating experience you have, you’ll benefit from our free and friendly Advice Onboard service.

Advice Onboard

Whatever boating experience you have, you’ll benefit from our free and friendly Advice Onboard service. Our face-to-face safety advice session takes place onboard your vessel at a time that’s convenient for you.

This unique service provided by experienced and highly trained RNLI volunteers will provide you with independent advice about your boat’s safety equipment. You’ll also have an opportunity to ask any niggling questions about equipment, safety, or emergency procedures that are on your mind.

Advice Onboard is a free service that’s suitable for anyone who goes to sea on a pleasure vessel of less than 13.7m. It’s available in all parts of the UK and Ireland. And it’s individual - we will tailor it to your particular vessel and the type of boating you do.

Tell us the time and place that best suits you using our online booking form, and we’ll be in touch to arrange your free Advice Onboard session.

Always check the weather conditions and sea forecast before heading out

Weather and tides

Don’t let the weather spoil your day. Always check the weather forecast and sea conditions before you set off. Get regular updates if you’re planning to be out for any length of time. And be prepared to change your plans or cancel the trip if the forecast is unfavourable.

Check the weather

Met Office  - inshore waters forecast

As well as providing an inshore waters forecast, the RYA SafeTrx app tracks your voyages and alerts emergency contacts if you fail to return home on time.

Check the tides

Admiralty EasyTide – the UK government’s tidal prediction service.

anyTide app – tidal and current predictions from the National Oceanography Centre.

Make sure to check your engine before leaving the dock

Check your engine

Mechanical failure is the single biggest cause of rescue call outs to sailing and motor cruisers, accounting for nearly 20% of all our lifeboat launches. Knowing your boat, carrying spares and being able to fit them could make the difference between having to call for help and being able to help yourself.

Download our free checklist for inboard and outdrive engines (PDF 104KB) or checklist for outboard engines (PDF 116KB).

The RYA’s diesel engine maintenance course is designed to help you to look after your engine and avoid problems when you’re at sea.

For extra peace of mind, consider taking out marine breakdown cover using a paid service such as Sea Start.

Safety checklist

  • Always wear an appropriate lifejacket.
  • Always carry a means of calling and signalling for help.
  • Ensure there is an emergency action plan in place and everybody has an onboard briefing (in particular on the location and use of the safety equipment, including the spare kill cord for powerboats).
  • Get the right level of training for your craft.
  • Always check the weather and tide times.
  • Make sure someone ashore knows where you are going and who to call if you don't return on time.
  • Always drive your boat at a speed that is appropriate to the weather conditions and to the environment you are operating in.

Emily's Code

The RNLI supports Emily’s Code, which honours the memory of 14-year-old Emily Gardner, and aims to prevent accidents at sea by highlighting key safety messages.

Read about Emily here.

65 yacht sailing and motorboating deaths in the uk between 2011 and 2015

1,585 Lifeboat launches to boats with machinery failure in 2016 - the single biggest cause of Rnli launches

What we can do for you
Safety advice session on motorboat
What we can do for you
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Lifejacket lockers
Using a lifejacket locker at Buckler’s Hard
Lifejacket lockers
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