Editorial April 2007 Issue

Rhumb Lines: 04/07

The Devil in the Details


At Practical Sailor, we approach every product review and test that we carry out with a high level of seriousness, and when it comes to safety gear, the level of responsibility is elevated a notch further. These are devices where the smallest detail can have grave consequences.


Winslow Ocean Rescue
The Winslow Ocean Rescue’s tether attachment point is but one detail that is being redesigned as a result of our testing.
For this month’s issue, the Practical Sailor staff and contributors combined for several hundred hours of work researching, examining, photographing, noting, and reviewing details related to specific marine safety gear. Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo launches into Part II of his series on life rafts with a thorough and—as he’ll readily admit—exhausting test of eight different life rafts ("Elliot SOLAS Life Raft Rises to the Top," page 8). Dan Dickison, who reported earlier this year on float coats, gets wet yet again in a test of man-overboard aids ("Throwable MOB Aids,"). Finally, Skip Allan wraps up his three-part report with an in-depth look at jacklines ("Hooked Up: A Guide to Jacklines,"). Combined with his two previous installments on safety harnesses and tethers, the article rounds out a complete look at gear that is essential to keeping you and your crew onboard.

As our testers put clips, webbing, and inflation systems under the microscope, I was encouraged to see they never lost sight of the big picture. Each of the final reports on the safety gear in this issue was prefaced with this important note: None of these items is a substitute for a well-found boat, seamanship skills, and sound judgment based on experience. It’s far too easy in this era of sophisticated communication gear and enhanced search-and-recue capabilities to believe that technology can save us from our mistakes.

Before diving into our life raft test results, remember that the odds of even the best life raft saving anyone drop sharply if the captain and crew are not familiar with launch and boarding procedure, or the raft is not properly inspected at the specified interval. Being on hand to observe the inspection and repacking of your life raft can be worth more than the price of the raft.

Before you review the comparison of MOB retrieval aids, consider your preparedness for a man-overboard event. When was the last time you practiced the Quick Stop or other proven MOB rescue maneuvers? Without practice, these flotation aids may as well be rocks.

Before you plunge into our jacklines report, consider the integrity of your lifelines, the quality of your nonskid, and the number and placement of on-deck handholds. How reliable and easy to use is your reefing gear? How capable is your crew at the helm in heavy weather?

I feel that a thanks is due to all Practical Sailor subscribers for supporting the research and testing we do here. As a result of the work by Allan, Dickison, Naranjo, and the other dedicated individuals who assisted with their projects, several manufacturers plan to make key design or material changes to gear we reviewed, improvements that we believe could very well save a life. It encourages me to see that these manufacturers take our reports as seriously as we do. But still more inspiring is the knowledge that there’s a community of sailors who care enough to help us fulfill our mission, which—as you well know—is about much more than keeping barnacles at bay.

Darrell Nicholson

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