Sail Safe!!
(as published in the New England Windsurfing Journal)

Here’s a list of safety devices we should all carry. Some URLs are provided  for starters, but there are plenty of other sources. Use any search engine with some simple keywords and you’ll find others. Keep in mind; you are looking for marine grade devices, submersible if possible. Also keep in mind that size matters. If it’s too big, you will probably start to leave it behind after a few sessions.

(See the reprinted NEWJ article below for a comprehensive review of some safety considerations to make in conjunction with any safety equipment purchases.)

Note: I try to keep links up to date, but if you should find any links to be dead, please email me at

PFD (Personal Floatation Device)


Note: the international distress call at sea is five long blasts of a horn. If you’ve got a whistle, stick with that (or the three short, three long, three short “SOS” Morse code) While not everyone will know what you’re on about, if you keep it up, even those who don’t will wonder what your problem is and just might take notice.


Reflective tape
Make sure you buy tape that meets USCG requirements. Put it wherever you are willing: helmet, vest, board, sail.

VHF Radio Radio-P1288.aspx
No license is required to operate a VHF, but it is illegal to use on shore. Links for more info regarding VHF radio transmissions, protocol, and coverage areas.


PLB (Personal Locator Beacon.)
The Fastfind Plus is a hand-held Personal Location Beacon that features a built-in GPS receiver (Global Positioning System) combined with a 406 MHz transmitter and 121.5 MHz homing signal. In the event of an emergency, an alert signal is transmitted to Cospas-Sarsat satellites and forwarded to a rescue coordination center within typically 3 minutes. The built-in GPS receiver will provide latitude and longitude coordinates to give a position to within typically 98 feet anywhere in the world. An expensive option, but if you’re serious about safety, it's worth having. Keep in mind, first responders may not be equipped to receive the signal, while they will see a $10 flare

Fluorescent markers & dyes, flags

Packs & Cases (Flip Phone Case) (Arm Band Pack)


As featured in the New England Windsurfing Journal:

When considering going out in just about any conditions, planning for safety  is just that: planning. Whether going out in mild conditions, in the summer at  Ninigret or winter storm conditions off some rocky coast, dealing with disaster as an inevitability is essential. The first step is acknowledging the  danger. It’s very easy to pretend things won’t go wrong, but once they have its too late. Expect you’ll eventually be in trouble; consider the specifics of what emergencies you might face, and plan out what you can do to help yourself in advance.

A few pointers to get you there:

Know your conditions
Before you even sail, review the conditions: currents, tides, water & air temperatures, wind speeds and directions, daylight. Consider your launch site’s appropriateness for the expected conditions. Sometimes what seems like the best launch can turn out to be real trouble if there’s a wind shift, or a tide change. A severe air temperature drop can spell disaster if you haven’t dressed for it. A few hours floating under sunny fall skies are a lot different from the same amount of time under a clear fall night.

Having considered the current and forecast conditions, and selected your site, make a mental note of the site specifics that can become critical in a self- rescue: piers, jetties, sand bars, buoys… all can become a lifesaver.

Buddy up
Never sailing alone is the first best safety practice. Always buddy up, even if it’s as simple as saying “hi” and “let’s keep an eye out for each other.” If you can’t you might want to re-consider going (or staying) out. Someone working for you onshore can mean the difference between a close call and a disaster. When sailing with others, keep an eye out for trouble. If you see someone down while sailing, swing by within earshot to check up on them. If you’re on land, keep an eye on them and if they aren’t recovering, call 911. If they recover and you can always call it off.

Make yourself safe
Dress for the emergency situation, not the ideal. Most emergency situations that went bad involved a long wait time in the water. Time is your enemy when it comes to hypothermia. Expect you may end up floating around for at least a few hours if you get into trouble and dress accordingly. Kiters should expect to sit in the water, even if they don’t lose their rig. Windsurfers should not assume they will have their rig to sit on, as you might get separated from it. Don’t be fooled by warm air, or even “warm” water. A few hours in even summer water can lead to hypothermia if you aren’t dressed for the occasion.

Floatation device: Short of wave sailing in Hawaii there is no reason not to wear one. Today’s vests are made for all sorts of active water sports where mobility is essential and designed into the vest. Many also come with pockets for safety gear (see below). In the even that you are knocked out by an impact or pass out from exposure, a vest is your only chance of still making it. And even if not, it will help you keep yourself above water if the conditions are (or get) rough, or you simply need to rest. Don’t count on your board to be your floatation device; you might get separated or be too tired out to hang on to it.

Helmet: Several windsurfing deaths have occurred as a result of an impact that left the victim unconscious. If you think your head is safe while sailing, try having a friend hit you on the back of the head with the bottom half of your mast. There are many different helmets out there, and most provide excellent protection without impeding hearing or sight. They are also much more convenient than your hair for reflective tape.

You and your stuff
There’s no hard and fast rule about what to do with your equipment. It’s a decision that can only be made on the spot. Either way, its worth considering the simple fact that if the equipment floats, it will most likely be found first in a rescue situation.

If you are at shore, or clearly safe but your equipment is dragging you out, it might be time to ditch it and get yourself in. With that in mind, label your equipment with your contact information. If you’re in a situation where you can make it in yourself but are reluctant to let it go, you might let it go easier if you know it’s got your name on it. If you do ditch it, alert authorities that you’ve lost it so they don’t launch a search for you when they find it floating around on its own.

On the other hand, once you leave your equipment, your chances drop dramatically if you find you can’t get yourself in. If you are past the point of no return that you could expect to swim back, stick with your rig. Again, remember, your rig is big, and is in just about every case, the first thing found. In the case of windsurfers your board also happens to be a great way to stay out of the water, allowing you to extend your survival time and avoid hypothermia.

Make yourself obvious
Once prepared to last out a search and rescue, the next step is to do what you can to speed it up. The basic plan is to first be able to alert people that you are in distress, and when help does arrive to be able to alert rescuers to your location. Remember, You may find yourself in a situation where you can hear the rescue efforts, but they do not see or hear you. Carrying a variety of devices will not only help diversify your self rescue capabilities and give you that many more backups in the even one fails.

But almost more important than what safety devices you carry is with what you carry them. If you don’t make it easy to carry them with you, you are more likely to leave them behind, and all the safety gear in the world does you no good if its in your bag while you are struggling out at sea. Fanny pack, arm pack, vest pockets… figure out which is best for you and use it. Personally I like the vest pockets: I always wear my vest, and this way I’ve always got my stuff. I used to use a fanny pack but started getting lazy and leaving it behind.

Keep your head
If all has failed and you find yourself in distress, stay calm and use your head. If you are prepared with some safety and signaling devices, have a buddy aware of your plight, are with your equipment and are properly dressed, a safe rescue is inevitable. But you have to stay calm. Get your safety gear working for you right away. And figure you’ll be floating for a while before you’re found, even if you know a search is in progress; it’s a big ocean and you’re pretty small.

Often neglected in safety considerations however is the likelihood that when faced with a desperate situation you will panic. Panic is irrational (spoken from experience). The best you can do to prepare for a panic situation is to have ingrained into your mind through regular repetition what to do in case of emergency. Like a fire drill: you do it by rote, not by thinking. Whether it’s the mantra “stick with your rig” or something else, think it through while you are safe, and keep repeating each time you go out. It should be an instinct by the time you need it.

The other point where reason can fail you is in hypothermia. When the body becomes hypothermic, non- essential body functions have blood supply reduced or cut off to conserve energy for those life essential functions. Contrary to popular belief (although perhaps not to most highway commuters) the ability to reason is not a life essential body function. At some point into hypothermia, you will not be thinking straight. Again, as with panic, the best defense is an ingrained instinctive emergency plan, and in this case, since hypothermia doesn’t exactly subside with time (as might panic) you need to be sure you’ve gotten things going in your favor before it starts to set in. This is where a strobe, dye a floatation device and sticking with your board really matter.

Do it
Safety doesn’t just happen. You need to be proactive about it. Before going out again, think through the steps above and honestly critique your preparedness. You probably aren’t as prepared as you could be. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and take the simple steps it takes to sail safe.