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Home > Racing > Crewing Offshore
Home > Racing > Crewing Offshore

Crewing Offshore

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Crewing a yacht on an offshore race can be great fun and exhilarating!  It can also be wet, cold, exhausting and at times dangerous, so careful planning before a trip is essential.  Knowing and understanding the challenges of offshore sailing is essential for a safe and enjoyable passage.

As part of the crew on a racing or passage making yacht, you have the responsibility to fulfil your role to the best of your ability and to manage your own personal safety, health and well-being, so you can enjoy the race and avoid putting yourself and your team at risk.

Here are 10 important factors to consider before your race:

1. The Yacht, Skipper & Crew

Familiarise yourself with the equipment and systems and if possible, sail or race regularly on the boat prior to the offshore event.

Request a safety briefing from skipper, using the Safety Equipment Location Chart displayed in the main saloon to identify and check the availability and location of principal safety equipment.

2. Roles & Team Work

Understand what your crewing roles will include, remembering that you might be required to undertake these in bad weather at night. Who will you be working with and what experience to they have? What is the spread of skill sets e.g. navigation, and who are you likely to be on watch with?

If possible, complete some inshore races crewing on the boat, working with your skipper to identify and practise your role prior to the offshore event.

3. Clothing

A list of suggested clothing is as follows:

  • Thermal Base Layer top and long johns
  • Mid Layer and Fleece
  • Offshore Wet Weather Gear - Jacket and Salopettes
  • Warm Gloves, Beanie Hat, Neck Warmer, Waterproof Socks.
  • Sailing Gloves
  • Sailing Boots
  • Sun Hat (full brim), Sunglasses.
  • Deck Shoes
  • Knee Pads - especially for bowmen
  • Deck Shorts and Long Sleeve Shirt

4. Personal Safety Equipment

You should have the following, most of which are likely to be supplied by the skipper:

  • Your Personal Lifejacket - With harness, whistle, strobe, reflective tape, lifting strap and spray hood. Check that the CO2 cylinder and Automatic trigger capsule are in date.
  • Safety Line/Tether - either double or triple hook
  • Personal Knife / Tool if not integral to lifejacket
  • Head Torch with red light to save your night vision
  • Spare PFD Rearm Kit
  • PLB AIS/GPS a small unit to fit inside your lifejacket. Expensive, but worth it depending on how much offshore sailing you will be doing.

5. Food and Drink

Co-ordinate your food requirements with the crew and play a part in preparing food and drink for the trip.

Depending on the type of yacht and race, eating times may be limited to quick and convenient food intake, even from the weather rail. Discuss this with the skipper.

Make the skipper and crew aware of any allergies you may have.

6. Personal Gear

You should have the following with you:

  • Personal Medication
  • Soft water-resistant gear bag 60L
  • Small dry bags various sizes for gear and electronics
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Phone & Charger
  • Toiletries
  • Sunscreen
  • Alarm - so you don't miss your shift
  • Waterproof Towel/Rug as your bunk may be wet
  • Snacks can be a good source of energy and comfort
  • Water Bottle have a personal bottle for frequent rehydration

7. Watch System

A common watch system adopted by many skippers is 4 hours on, four hours off. In preparation, take an interest in the navigation and weather preparations and always keep diligent and aware of any changes. Communicate your observations to the skipper, for instance a squall or shipping in the vicinity.

It's important to get as much sleep as possible when off-watch. Be prepared to be called on deck at any stage if theres an all hands on deck situation.

8. Seasickness

Seasickness can be debilitating and if not addressed, confine you to your bunk for extensive periods of time, limiting or preventing you from fulfilling your role as a crew member. Taking seasickness tablets or wearing seasickness wrist bands are common methods to limit the effects.

Simple measures are to try and maintain sight of the horizon which can help give your brain a point of reference, allowing it to sense the motion of the yacht and your bodys movements with it. Limiting work time spent below is also effective. If you are not on watch, get prepared for your bunk without delay and close your eyes as soon as possible. 

9. Physical & Mental Health

Sailing offshore for extensive periods is physically and mentally demanding. As an effective crew member you need to stay in good physical condition and effectively manage your own health and wellbeing.  This requires managing your own food intake, energy levels, hydration, sleep, body temperature, sun protection and seasickness. Keep an eye out for your fellow crew members too and support them if necessary.  

10. Training Courses

The RYA offer several courses which provide training in preparation for offshore sailing, most of which can be accessed locally:

  • Competent Crew
  • Day Skipper
  • Essential Navigation & Seamanship
  • VHF Marine Radio
  • First Aid

Offshore sailing should be a safe, challenging and a rewarding experience. If you have any serious concerns regarding your safety, talk to the skipper or organising committee for reassurance. You dont have to get on the boat if you feel unsafe!

Useful Links:

Happy safe sailing and have an enjoyable season!

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