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Looking for safety tips for sailing all alone

stollie

Member
Hi all,
I’m looking for some tips on how to sail safely, especially when it’s only me out there. I’ve only been sailing since last year and my home waters is the Shrewsbury river in New Jersey which, along with the Navesink river, feeds out into the bay.

Basically what I’ve been doing is going out close to high tide so I’m not dealing with the strong pull of the outgoing tide. I check the forecast and look at the water to see if I’d be comfortable going out there at that time.

Of course my wife knows where I’m headed to when I leave home.

I leave my cell phone in the car because I know it will end up at the bottom.

I'm in my late 50's, fairly fit, and I’m comfortable righting the SF if it goes over.

Any suggestions on basic safety that I may be overlooking would be most appreciated.
 

gzblack2

Member
Not to mention the obvious but since you didn’t, PFD?
I consider myself a confident above average swimmer. Comfortable swimming in open water, especially enjoy the ocean, finished a handful of triathlons, but wearing a life jacket just seems like a no brainer. It’s not just how fit you are, weather can change, your boat disabled or you injured. In all these cases a PFD Could be a life saver.
I actually keep my cell phone in a dry bag with me on the boat. Even if it fell from the boat it will float.
 

Wavedancer

Upside down?
Staff member
You need security in case something breaks or you get hurt somehow and you won't be able to sail home. A phone or an EPIRB type alarm? One can even rent the latter from BoatUS.
 

Weston

Member
Hi all,
I’m looking for some tips on how to sail safely, especially when it’s only me out there. I’ve only been sailing since last year and my home waters is the Shrewsbury river in New Jersey which, along with the Navesink river, feeds out into the bay.

Basically what I’ve been doing is going out close to high tide so I’m not dealing with the strong pull of the outgoing tide. I check the forecast and look at the water to see if I’d be comfortable going out there at that time.

Of course my wife knows where I’m headed to when I leave home.

I leave my cell phone in the car because I know it will end up at the bottom.

I'm in my late 50's, fairly fit, and I’m comfortable righting the SF if it goes over.

Any suggestions on basic safety that I may be overlooking would be most appreciated.
I glued a small stainless steel U bolt to the inside of the cubby and bungeed a small waterproof box to that. Inside, I have a small airhorn, a handful of zip ties for repairs, an expired drivers license for identification, and my cell phone. Even if I flip the boat, I won’t lose any of that.
 

wjejr

Active Member
Hi Stollie. I grew up sailing on the Shrewsbury and did a lot of water skiing there and on the Navesink. I launched my boat (Laser) from the Oceanport side. I can't think of a much safer place to sail, but here would be my advice on what not to do.

1. You don't want to get anywhere to close to Sedge and Gunning islands, or anywhere that far east, especially if the tide is going out. The current can be strong there and if there isn't a lot of wind, you will end up getting swept towards the Rumson Bridge. That would be scary, especially with power boats about.

2. At high tide you can sail under Gooseneck bridge, but at low tide you will be running aground in a lot of muck with the daggerboard down.

3. If you sail up Branchport creek, I would not go any farther than the Port Au Peck bridge. Not sure that's what you call that bridge, but it's the one that crosses from Oceanport into Long Branch (Monmouth Blvd.)

Here's what I would do:

1. Have a look at the chart for the "Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers", and figure out where you can sail without running aground. Honestly, I think that, running aground at low tide, will be your biggest problem.

2. Especially if the wind is light, bring a collapsible paddle. I have the yellow one from West Marine, and it's great, just make sure to wash the salt water off it thoroughly when you are done. On the paddling topic, you can bring a bungee cord that will hook to the traveler eyes. That will keep the sail and booms out of the water. Of course if there is no wind, just leave the sail up.

3. If you have an inspection port, get a "cat bag" for it, so that you put your keys, phone, and VHF radio (Marine Police on channel 16), if you have one. For the Shrewsbury and Navesink, I think a phone is enough.

4. Having a line so that someone could tow you would not be a bad idea. 1/4" -3/8" x 20-30 feet of whatever, just not cotton, will do.

5. If the boat goes over, try desperately to keep the boat from turtling. The water is shallow and if the mast, or in the Sunfish case the upper boom, gets stuck in the sand/mud, it will be harder to get it upright. The more you get up past the bridges the muddier you will find it. If the mast comes back up slinging mud everywhere, it will be an ABSOLUTE mess.

6. One odd thing that sticks with me, is that in light air in the summer, you can get green head flies. Once one finds you, it will not leave you alone until you squash it. I find hats are good for that purpose. :)

That's all I can think of for the Shrewsbury.

For the Navesink it's similar. I would stay between the Molly Pitcher, better yet Blossom Cove, at one end, and the Oceanic Bridge on the other. Once you are past the Oceanic Bridge, it's really shallow and again the closer you get to Seabright the stronger the current is going to be.

Feel free to ask any questions you can think of.

Hope that helps.

Good luck!
 

stollie

Member
Wow, I'm really glad I asked you guys for this info!

Andy, launch point is at the end of Seawaneka Ave, which angles off to the left of Pocano Ave. Shrewsbury yacht club is just south of launch site; lot of catboats there.

Wjejr, thanks very much for this invaluable info, which I'll be printing and using as my bible for the Shrewsbury. Thanks for mentioning the Navesink as well; I'd like to sail there, I just don't know where to launch from that's free and easy. Please share any knowledge about this. Thanks.

The town of Keyport is actually much closer for me than where I currently sail, but Keyport is on the Raritan Bay. Right now, I'm not ready for that big body of water, knowing how fickle the wind can be. At some point, I'm gonna pick a nice mild day with onshore wind and go out at high tide, and just putter around the boats at Keyport yacht club, which is just east of the launch site.

Green flies, eh? Years ago at Island Beach State Park, my wife and I ran as if somebody was chasing us with a machete, trying to get away from those suckers!

Thanks again, one and all!
 

signal charlie

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Float Plan
Flotation
Fone
Flashlight
Fluids
Friend

I'll caveat this, I flew helicopter Search and Rescue in the Marine Corps, desert environment, so I know what helped folks increase their survival chances and what helped us find them.

Someone knows to know when and where you are going to be, so they know when to launch SAR.
In over 3/4 of fatalities in small craft last year folks weren't wearing a PFD .
If you get hurt or come across someone hurt, gear fails, etc...you need to have a way to contact rescue agencies of friends. Fone or VHF are some of the ways to do this
If your area is remote, you need a way to signal rescue crews. Whistle, mirror, strobe, flares, flashlight...
Drinking water is especially important if you get stuck out overnight somewhere
Find a sailing buddy

Yuma SAR rappel.jpg

Keep boat ship shape to avoid unexpected breakdowns

Good luck with your mess abouts!
 

andyatos

Well-Known Member
Hi Stollie,

As usual, the folks here on the Sunfish forum provided great advice. Wjejr's words are particularly valuable because of being so familiar with the area. I grew up on coastal Massachusetts and was on, in or under the water throughout the year, so I'm familiar with your conditions.

As far as safety gear goes, what about this. Do you have several wetsuits? As in, a 4/3 mil full length one, a 3/2 mil full length one and a shorty wetsuit for warmer conditions. And do you have a "Squid Lid"? See the attached photo.

Out here in coastal Northern California, the water can be quite cold even during the summer. And when we have upwellings of deep ocean currents push up against the coast, the water gets really cold. As in, walk into knee deep water in July and in less than a minute your ankles start to hurt.

Yet we can be wet all day while windsurfing and not get cold. Particularly when we are wearing our Squid Lids. Neoprene is a great safety tool.

- Andy

squid-lid.jpg
 

stollie

Member
Thanks for the additional info and suggestions.

The PDF is my first piece of gear for sure. I have a full length 3mm wetsuit that I'll probably have to start using, with the weather cooling down. No headgear but I like the look of that Squid Lid...will definitely be getting one of those.

This summer in the Shrewsbury river. The sail kept dropping that day so I put in a mast cleat to help keep it up there.
 

Attachments

wjejr

Active Member
Wow, I'm really glad I asked you guys for this info!

Andy, launch point is at the end of Seawaneka Ave, which angles off to the left of Pocano Ave. Shrewsbury yacht club is just south of launch site; lot of catboats there.

Wjejr, thanks very much for this invaluable info, which I'll be printing and using as my bible for the Shrewsbury. Thanks for mentioning the Navesink as well; I'd like to sail there, I just don't know where to launch from that's free and easy. Please share any knowledge about this. Thanks.

The town of Keyport is actually much closer for me than where I currently sail, but Keyport is on the Raritan Bay. Right now, I'm not ready for that big body of water, knowing how fickle the wind can be. At some point, I'm gonna pick a nice mild day with onshore wind and go out at high tide, and just putter around the boats at Keyport yacht club, which is just east of the launch site.

Green flies, eh? Years ago at Island Beach State Park, my wife and I ran as if somebody was chasing us with a machete, trying to get away from those suckers!

Thanks again, one and all!
Glad to be able to help.

Here are my replies to your questions:

For the Navesink you can try the Rumson Municipal Boat Ramp (Ave of Two Rivers). I don't remember much about it, but I just looked at a map and it is still there. It's on the wrong side of the Oceanic Bridge, but I think a Sunfish can sail under it towards Red Bank.

Where you are launching is pretty much where I used to launch many years ago. If you find yourself sailing regularly, I would strike up a conversation with the SSYC members. They were, and I am sure still are, good people.

I think for a Sunfish the Shrewsbury is going to be more enjoyable than Raritan Bay. It's a good size, relatively flat, and the water is warm. If you do sail out of Keyport, I would head over towards Sandy Hook.

The green flies are only a once in awhile thing, and nothing like where I live now (North Shore Boston) where a couple of the beaches aren't worth going to if there's an offshore breeze.

One other thing is that you will get stinging jellyfish late in the season. I never remember getting stung when the Laser went over, but I sure do remember getting stung water skiing.

Hope that helps and good luck!
 

Weston

Member
I glued a small stainless steel U bolt to the inside of the cubby and bungeed a small waterproof box to that. Inside, I have a small airhorn, a handful of zip ties for repairs, an expired drivers license for identification, and my cell phone. Even if I flip the boat, I won’t lose any of that.
wjejr's notes below about carrying spare line remind me that I also carry 20' of ⅜" line coiled in front of the cowling and attached to the handle on the front of the boat. It could be used for towing; I can use it to create a stirrup to get back in the boat if needed; and I also use that line to tie the fish up to the dock at the loading ramp while I run off to get the trailer.
 

stollie

Member
OK guys, thanks a lot! I'm good to go.

Wjejr, a special thanks to you. Your info is invaluable, and will keep me out out trouble per the specifics of that locale. If anything else comes to mind at any point, please be sure to let me know. Thanks.

Be well, all.
 
If you are still hesitant to take out your cellphone with you, you do have two options.
  1. Buy a prepaid phone (you can get them most anywhere for less than $100). They might have data and text as well as phone capability
  2. Take an old (but still charged) phone with you. Even though you won't be able to make regular calls, in an emergency you should still be able to call 911.
 

L&VW

Well-Known Member
Maybe $6, :oops: I got mine at Ocean State/Big Lots, but maybe that chain is only in New England. IDK.

On the end that opens, there are three ZipLock seals, which get folded over.

When starting your sailing day, and putting essentials in the pouch, make sure the pouch isn't filled with rainwater. :confused:

If the pouch was filled with rainwater, remove the cellphone and don't check for operability. Immediately remove the battery, take it to a vacuum cleaner, and remove any water that's collected inside.

I saw that nifty trick on the Internet/YouTube and it's worked three times for me. :)
 

3RiverSunfish

New Member
One thing that I haven't seen come up: take an aural and a visual method of signaling for help appropriate for where you are sailing and time of day.

I sail my Sunfish on inland rivers and lakes, so the waters are pretty tame. I make do with a really loud waterproof blast whistle tied on to my pdf, which i'm always wearing if i'm totally alone. In my small drybag, which is stuffed in the cubby and clipped to a fixed eyestrap, i keep an old CD. Modest, but in the sun its actually a neat trick.

On more open water, you might want to upgrade to a airhorn, and as far as visuals go, a fold out orange flag, or even flares.

I happened to be in a west marine the other day, and they had cell phone sized EPIRBs for around $300. If i were sailing somewhere where those channels were monitored, my wife would buy me one whether I wanted it or not. :)
 

mattbaker

New Member
Well, the first and biggest tip I will give you is to always wear a sailing life jacket no matter whether you are a beginner or a world-class swimmer. I have personally seen some professional swimmers being in trouble after falling from sailing(they were unconscious). ALWAYS WEAR ONE!

Second, never rush things and let it go with the flow while you must be fully alert for your safety. Never take your safety for granted. And rest of all the tips are the same as 3RiverSunish gave prior to me.

Source - lifejacketexpert.com/best-life-jackets-for-sailing/
 

Coastal Redneck

Active Member
Just catching up to this thread, great advice from site members!!! Can't remember if anyone mentioned good gloves & booties, particularly in cooler weather... AND if ya find yerself out there longer than expected. A small soft cooler with water & lunch is always good to have on board... mine was slightly larger to accommodate the beer as well, LOL. Good on ya for "working the tides" like a true sailor or fisherman, no point in fighting 'em if ya have any choice in the matter. I'd routinely work the tides when sailing outta San Diego Bay, it made life much easier, aye? What else? How about good eye protection (shades on a goon cord) and a billed or brimmed cap or hat with a chin strap or cord? Invaluable for long-term comfort... believe me, that solar abuse adds up over the years. I like how ya check the forecast prior to leaving shore, I always liked the NOAA weather website, it even has a marine forecast for sailors in your area. A tide chart in a waterproof bag or Zip-Loc is also good to have on board, just in case your memory is slipping, LOL. Did anybody mention a whistle? Small, lightweight, and good for signalling in a fog... or letting someone know you're in trouble if that should ever happen. Otherwise, I say good luck to ya, hope ya have a blast sailing as I always did... hey, even the WORST day of sailing is better than the best day in an office or a factory, LOL. CHEERS!!! :rolleyes:
 

AQBill

Member
Stollie, it sounds as though you have a good head on your shoulders. Lots of good advice here but the most important thing you can have is a solid understanding of your capabilities and remember to always err on the side of safety. Listen to that wisdom that got you through the first 50+ years!
 

stollie

Member
Thanks for the additional tips, all of which will serve other relatively inexperienced sailors well. This thread alone now allows me go out there with confidence. Trust me, I'm in no hurry to meet Davy Jones! :)
 

L&VW

Well-Known Member
I've attached an old CD to the underside of a 6-inch inspection port cover. One pop-rivet is best. (Glue wrinkles the finish).

'Astonishing how large and bright that CD light-reflector is in sunlight. If you don't use it in emergency circumstances, you can signal for a sandwich and Pepsi before you arrive on shore. :p
 

EdT

New Member
My wife got me a handheld, waterproof radio that I can use if I get stuck in the Barnagate Bay. If something breaks, I can call
someone on channel 16 to come rescue me. I always wear a PFD. Do not wear an inflatable PFD. :(
 

stollie

Member
Thanks for that, Ed.

Earlier in the thread, someone had mentioned getting a sailing buddy or buddies, which I think is great advice as well. I'm hoping to find others to come sail my local waters, as well as me going to theirs. With that in mind, please consider coming up to the Shrewsbury next season, and perhaps we can coordinate for me coming down to Barnegat as well, if that's ok.
 

EdT

New Member
Hi Stollie, I'd highly recommend joining one of the 13 yacht clubs in our area. Most have active Sunfish programs where you can learn and race. We belong to Lavallette Yacht Club. We have 20-30 Sunfish sailors, racing on Sunday, lessons are given Thursday night. I'll do some research and see who is near you.
 

stollie

Member
Hi Ed, I appreciate your offer of research; that's very generous and I thank you. Frankly, it's not in my budget to join a club, as I'm already stretched thin with my other hobbies. I'm also worried about incurring hospital bills if my wife's eyes get stuck in the back of her head from all the rolling :)
 

starshippe

New Member
good rnorning stollie,
. . . I have shared your enjoyment of open water single handed sailing, since the mid 70's. "cool change"
. . . . .
. . . my nic is from the styx song "come sail away", from that era. I was wild bill back then, I'm mild bill now. I gave the name to my nacra catamaran, so it had to be feminine, hence the ppe.
. . . . .
. . .
. . . anyway, I offer the following list of survival suggestions, collected over the years. if some of them seem a bit serious, its because they are. open water single handing is special, but u had better have ur ducks in a row.
. . .
I tied the end of the mainsheet around my ankle. getting separated from the boat should not be a possibility.
if things were intense, I trailed some poly line behind the boat.
get one of these. don't settle for the cheap ones. learn how to use the heliograph. when u look through the hole in the mirror from the back, u will see a bright spot in the graticule. this is where the reflection is going. this shows as an intense flash of light to a boat or airplane literally miles away. it cant be missed. (assuming that the sun is shining.) get one. don't ask any questions. do it now.
. . .
. . .
if u are in the water and see people looking for u, u will be much more easily seen if u splash the water. waving is not that effective.
cell phones can be used to pinpoint ur position, if u can be seen by three towers. two towers will yield two lines of position, and one tower only one, which is still better than none. but all of these assume that the towers can see ur phone. at water level, this is iffy at best.
a personal locator beacon is extremely good insurance. the models now can include a gps, which will encode the lat and lon in the data sent to the satellite. the coast guard usually launches if a 406 beacon is detected. a water level antenna is not a problem if ur transmitting to a satellite. the plb should be carried on ur person, with the mirror.
you might not be found before nightfall. if u want attention at night there is absolutely nothing that will attract attention like a red parachute flare. the cheaper flares only spend a few seconds airborne. see if u can talk the local coast guard into a demonstration of the different flare types.
. . .
. . . I also fly as a sar pilot for the civil air patrol. I have hanging on my wall a picture of a biplane embedded in the top of a tree, with the admonition that "aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. but to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of carelessness, incapacity, or neglect." I would add "insufficient preparation."
. . .
mild bill
 

kmisegades

Swamp Goose
Hi all,
I’m looking for some tips on how to sail safely, especially when it’s only me out there. I’ve only been sailing since last year and my home waters is the Shrewsbury river in New Jersey which, along with the Navesink river, feeds out into the bay.

Basically what I’ve been doing is going out close to high tide so I’m not dealing with the strong pull of the outgoing tide. I check the forecast and look at the water to see if I’d be comfortable going out there at that time.

Of course my wife knows where I’m headed to when I leave home.

I leave my cell phone in the car because I know it will end up at the bottom.

I'm in my late 50's, fairly fit, and I’m comfortable righting the SF if it goes over.

Any suggestions on basic safety that I may be overlooking would be most appreciated.
Great timing - Yesterday I was sailing on Lake Auman, behind our house here in Seven Lakes, NC. 100 feet deep at the dam. The wind was up and gusting. I like sailing fast and push my old Fish pretty hard. While reaching hard, the spruce mast snapped at the deck with no warning. Thankfully it did not fall on me. You have very little control of a SF with the mast snapped but the lines still attached to the boat and the rig in the water. I always take a paddle along, on a line so it remains attached to the boat. The paddle helped me get to shore. Of course I was wearing a wet suit with rubber socks and gloves. And I always wear a wool cap just in case I fall in. I also take my iPhone as I use it to see my speed while sailing, using the great app Motion-X GPS. I have a waterproof mount that attaches via (a very strong) suction cup and floating lanyard to the front inside wall of the cockpit. The mount is a Xventure Griplox Waterproof Suction Mount Phone Holder for Marine Boats, $25 on Amazon and I can not recommend this enough. I am 62 and in good shape and a strong swimmer. But cold water is a quick killer, even if you wear a wet suit. Stuff happens in boats and it is better to be safe than sorry. In the winter weather can change quickly and waves are killers for the Sunfish. Stay closer to shore in the winter, wear a wet suit and something to keep your head warm. Take a paddle and your cell phone in a mount that is attached to your boat. Maybe one of those loud horns or whistles to get attention. The best part of winter sailing however is the strong winds and you will have the water to yourself. Happy Sailing!
 

stollie

Member
Great advice and great story, guys! Thanks for sharing!

I'm actually not an open water sailor. As a matter of fact, a member who's familiar with my sailing locale described is thus: "can't think of a much safer place to sail."

Also, I'm partial to warm water, so I'm waiting until May or so to get back out there, no longer at the age where I like to push the boundaries too hard. Big water of any kind can be very harsh and unforgiving, a lesson I had the good fortune of learning and coming out unscathed at an early age, so I have tremendous respect for water.

Nice to read what y'all are writing so keep those stories and/or lessons learned coming!
 

signal charlie

Well-Known Member
Staff member
The new Apple 5 watch is water resistant down to 50 meters. If you are in cell coverage area you can make a phone call with just the watch. And if you add GPS to the basic cell and wifi modes there are a lot of cool boating apps that are useful as well, BoatUS being one of them.

Otherwise a waterproof VHF with GPS and Mayday button is a good piece of gear, make sure it is one that floats like some of the Horizon brands.

We take towels on our bigger boat, they can be dipped in water to cool off or act as a sunshade on exposed skin. Might get you noticed if worn correctly.

7A441722-28FF-49A3-BF1F-F20D295BA23D_1_105_c.jpeg
 
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