Over the long (American) Thanksgiving Weekend, my partner and I drove up to Vancouver, BC, to take part in Sail Canada’s Offshore Personal Survival Course. This is training required for anyone doing offshore racing in OSR (Offshore Special Regulations) categories 0, 1, and 2. While we don’t currently have plans to do any racing, we felt that taking the course would do well to help prepare us should the worst happen while sailing offshore.
As cruisers, we were in the minority in the class–only 4 of us weren’t dedicated racers. The instructors actually really like having cruisers attend, as very few actually do take this training despite sailing offshore, and we were very glad to have taken it, both for all the classroom discussion but also the experience of being in our full offshore gear in the water and inflating & boarding life rafts in multiple ways (as well as flipping it over if it’s deployed inverted).
What the course really hammers in though, is making sure everything is in set up (on the boat, trained into crew, etc.) so that avoidable emergencies never happen in the first place. Of course, there are random events that can happen that aren’t avoidable as well, so understanding how to evaluate and deal with these situations is vital.
But, to the first point, the thing that shivering in cold pool water really got across is this: Don’t fall off the boat. Don’t let your boat sink. Don’t board the life raft until your boat is literally starting to sink beneath the waves. Being in the water in your offshore survival gear really, really sucks. Many sailors have died due to abandoning their boat too early for a life raft in horrible conditions, and their boat was later found floating on its own just fine. If your boat is sinking slowly, that just means you have more time to toss gear from the boat into the life raft and then attempt to stop the boat from sinking. “Step up into the life raft from your boat” is the saying.
We’re both really glad we did it; what a great experience. Being able to ask questions of the incredible experienced instructors for advice and clarifications was really important. I’m not going to go over the whole course here, but those interested can get one of the associated textbooks with these courses–this particular course used the RYA Sea Survival Handbook (Amazon link, RYA link).