Increase boat visibility - Sail Magazine

Increase boat visibility

VisibilityHow to be seenWe all hope the lookouts on those huge container ships will see our little sailboats in rain, mist, and low light. Should we find ourselves in trouble, we pray that our rescuers will be able to make us out in the breaking waves.Some sailors have long recognized the value of being highly visible. Many ocean-racing boats have brightly colored hulls
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0

Visibility

How to be seen

We all hope the lookouts on those huge container ships will see our little sailboats in rain, mist, and low light. Should we find ourselves in trouble, we pray that our rescuers will be able to make us out in the breaking waves.

Some sailors have long recognized the value of being highly visible. Many ocean-racing boats have brightly colored hulls and decks. In New Zealand, sailors are strongly advised to sew bright orange stripes on their sails. Yet most cruising sailors own boats with white sails, white or blue hulls, and gray or white masts and so are difficult to see at sea.

It is very easy and inexpensive to dramatically improve your boat's visibility. Whether you're bluewater cruising or just daysailing around the coast or lakes, it's worth the effort. Painting the top few feet of your mast international orange will make the boat much more visible from a distance without affecting its aesthetics. I painted the top 4 feet of Hawk's masthead. It’s very visible in profile, but from the front and back, the mast section is much narrower and a 6-foot stripe would be better.

I did this from a bosun's chair, after first masking off the area I wanted to paint. I taped the mainsail track and other hardware and covered the deck for 6 feet around the mast base to guard against paint drops. I sanded the mast lightly, cleaned it with acetone, and brushed on two coats of orange paint. It doesn’t need to be a perfect high-gloss job.

To further increase visibility, sew international-orange panels onto your storm sails. Many New Zealanders also sew an orange triangle on the heads of their mainsails and working jibs. A sailmaker can do this quickly and inexpensively.

Making the hull and deck both highly visible and aesthetically pleasing requires a little thought. The paint job needs to be quite good, since it will be seen close up, and the color and pattern need to be large and bright without being too much of an eyesore. Many Open Class raceboats have a hot pink, bright orange, or yellow circle about 3 feet across painted in the center of their foredecks. This dramatically increases visibility from the air.

You could paint a similar bull's eye on the hull sides at the bow or stern to make you more visible to ships, but it is better to get the bright spot higher up. One way is to use a high-visibility color for the dodger and cockpit spray cloths. Those concerned with aesthetics might opt for two sets of dodgers and cockpit cloths, a bright and garish one for offshore use and a less garish one for local use.

At night, you need the appropriate navigation lights, and a powerful hand-held spotlight trained on your sails will dramatically increase your visibility. Some cruisers have masthead strobe lights, but international law says these must be used only in a true emergency.

Making yourself visible is also important. The usual colors of foul-weather gear—blue or dark red—are more fashionable than visible. Bright yellow or orange will improve your chances of being spotted if you go overboard. E.S.

Seamanship

Light line only

Many years ago an acquaintance was nearly strangled when his knife, which he wore on a strong lanyard around his neck, got tangled up in the anchor chain as he was easing a 45-pound hook over the bow roller. It could have ended badly had he been alone. It's certainly a good idea to attach lanyards to valuable items like flashlights, knives, shackle keys, and so on so that you don't lose them overboard, but make sure the line is weak enough so it will snap easily if whatever it's attached to gets caught up in a flailing sheet or anchor rode. One way to do this is to connect the implement to the lanyard with a plastic clip. Better to lose a knife than a hand or a life. P.N.

Passive radar reflector

Wooden boats with wooden masts make poor radar targets; the same is true of fiberglass hulls with carbon-fiber masts. Even boats with aluminum spars are notoriously unreliable targets, which is why all sailboats should carry passive radar reflectors. Yet few boats have these permanently mounted.

Instead, most rely on corner reflectors to reflect a radar signal directly back to the scanner that transmitted it. These work well on many navigation buoys, but size is important: a 12-inch corner reflector is theoretically less than 1 percent as effective as a 36-inch reflector.

An individual corner reflector has significant nulls, or areas in which it does not reflect effectively. Some products combine several reflectors in various orientations to provide something like omnidirectional coverage, but the individual reflectors are then smaller. Sailors should permanently fit as large a reflector as their boat can physically accommodate, as high up as possible, but they should not assume these will always makes them visible, especially in rough conditions. For circumstances in which being seen by radar is particularly important, a much larger reflector might also be carried, stowed flat but able to be quickly assembled and then hoisted in the rigging. A.B.

Safety

Will we collide?

To evaluate the risk of a collision, check whether the vessel in question is maintaining a steady bearing relative to you. Initially, you can do this by keeping your head still and seeing whether the other vessel remains in place over a particular stanchion, shroud, or other likely reference. If you’re not sure if the vessel is moving, take a bearing with a compass and keep checking as the range closes. You might even use the electronic bearing line on your radar. In confined waters, it is easier to tell whether the other craft appears stationary relative to its background. While difficult to prove mathematically, this old rule of thumb works every time unless the other craft is almost on the beach. If the other vessel stays in front of the same distant field or headland as you approach, you are on a collision heading, so watch out. T.C.

Words from the Wise

"Bad-weather seamanship, in the strict sense of handling a vessel at sea, only really starts when she is too far offshore to run back to the shelter of the land. It is the most satisfying art of all, as success depends entirely on the men aboard, with the vessel they have selected and prepared; it is too late then to wish for something different, and there is no possibility of consulting anyone else. No sport is more magnificent than deep-water sailing in bad weather, and none requires more courage, nor sustained effort of body and mind; nor does any pay a bigger dividend to careful preparation."

Related

180615-01 Lead

A Dramatic Comeback in the Volvo

After winning three of the last four legs in the Volvo Ocean Race (and coming in second in the fourth), Dutch-flagged Brunel is now tied for first overall with Spanish-flagged Mapfre and Chinese-flagged Dongfeng following the completion of Leg 10 from Cardiff, Wales, to ...read more

MFS-5-2018-Propan-SP02

Tohatsu LPG-powered 5hp Propane Motor

Gassing it UpTired of ethanol-induced fuel issues? Say goodbye to gasoline. Japanese outboard maker Tohatsu has introduced an LPG-powered 5hp kicker that hooks up to a propane tank for hours of stress-free running. Available in short-, long- or ultra-long-shaft versions, the ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comThink Deeply When chartering, I am always maddened to be told that the echo sounder is calibrated “to depth under the keel, plus a bit for safety.” Such operators seem to imagine that the instrument’s sole ...read more

180612-01 Landing lead

Painful Sailing in Volvo Leg 10

It’s looking to be a case of feast or famine for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean fleet as it continues the epic struggle that has been Leg 10, with it having been all famine thus far. Painful is the only word to describe the light-air start in Cardiff, Wales, on June 10, as the 11-boat ...read more

01-13_07_180304_JRE_03695_4605

Tips From the Boatyard

Within the Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard sits a communal sail loft which provides service and repairs for all seven teams sailing in the 2017-18 edition of the race. The sail loft employs only five sailmakers who look after 56 sails in each stopover. If you’re thinking, “wow, these ...read more

sailCarwBasicsJuly18

Sail Care for Cruisers

Taking care of your canvas doesn’t just save you money, it’s central to good seamanship  Knowing how to take care of your sails and how to repair them while at sea is an important part of overall seamanship. The last thing any sailor needs is to get caught on a lee shore with ...read more

Ship-container-2048

The Danger of a Collision Offshore

This almost happened to me once. I was sailing singlehanded between Bermuda and St. Martin one fall, and one night happened to be on deck looking around at just the right time. The moon was out, the sky was clear and visibility was good. Still, when I thought I saw a large ...read more

New-MHS-Promo

Multihulls on the Horizon

Fountaine Pajot New 42The French cat powerhouse has been on a roll these last few years, cranking out new models that not only replace their older line but take a step forward in design and user-friendliness. The New 42’s “real” name had not been revealed as we went to press, but ...read more