teenage girl and her two companions had walked along the beach from New Quay harbour and sat on a rock while the sun set, playing with their mobile phones – until they found they were cut off by the rising tide. I, and the skipper of another anchored yacht, then rowed our tenders inshore and offered them a lift to dry land.
Within a few seconds of coming on board, the young lady illustrated two fundamental aspects of safety in small boats. When I invited her to step on board, to my surprise she did just that, and no more, standing upright in the stern of my dinghy as if she was on the deck of the Rosslare ferry. Very gently, trying not to raise my voice or look alarmed at the threat to our stability, I persuaded her to sit down and she was followed by one of her mates. Then, as we pulled away from the rock, I mentioned that sitting on her handbag meant that she was still higher than necessary. She glanced down at the dew-covered thwart with all the hauteur of Sweet Sixteen on a night out. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I don’t want a wet ass, do I!’
AMost of the small craft used as yacht tenders are capable of being safe, stable platforms, and accidents usually occur when their occupants don’t know how to use them properly. However, risks increase when the design features of a tender or its yacht encourage incorrect use. If varnished thwarts that gather dew can lead to a reduction in stability, be sure that there are plenty of other hazards to surprise the unwary. Some could give us not just a wet ass but also a wet everything else!
If a typical yacht tender should drift out to sea with its painter untied and someone snoozing on the bottom boards, the occupant might succumb to exposure, hunger or thirst but he would be very unlucky to drown unless there were breaking seas or he did something foolish. Given correct loading – weight low down and with good fore-and-aft trim – a tender is very unlikely to capsize, but it offers plenty of scope for ill-judged actions, especially during the normal business of ferrying people and gear to its parent yacht.
The most common hazards arise from the transfer from tender to yacht, or vice versa. Cartoons and humorous articles have derived lots of fun from descriptions of hapless crew, with hands on toe rail and feet in dinghy which is drifting away until they resemble a human boarding ramp, before the inevitable splash. This is not at all funny in cold, choppy conditions with a running tide, as witnessed from my sailing club when a novice member tried to board his new yacht. Near low tide, soft mud between the pontoon and the water ruled out sending help from shore. Fortunately, the man was very fit and managed to climb his transom-hung rudder, while the club summoned help from the harbour authority launch, but it was nearly a tragedy.
Many people will benefit from some kind of boarding step below gunwale level, such as a swungdown ladder or a step fender. Handholds are equally important and normal perimeter lifelines may be too low. When a person has one foot on the rail, about to swing the other leg over the
‘The most common hazards arise during the transfer from tender to yacht, or vice versa’
lifelines that they are also using as their only hand grip, they have no point of support higher than thigh level and will be insecure if the yacht is rolling. Much better to have hand holds that are above head level, so that their arms help to pull them up. The shrouds may be suitable when boarding amidships, but not if they are set well inboard. For ladders mounted near the stern, goalpost frames can serve the same purpose. Many crews now board their yachts via sugar-scoops but this carries risks if they are alighting on smooth surfaces, particularly if the tender has to be held across the yacht’s stern in a strong tidal stream. Again, wellplaced handholds are very important.
Baggage and other heavy items pose an extra hazard, partly because anyone lifting a weighty object is more likely to be unbalanced, but also because they are using their hands to do the lifting, and they may need those hands free for their own security. It is safer if the person in the dinghy stays seated and lifts the object a short distance, for a person on the yacht to reach over and take it from above. For really heavy weights, why not use the boom and mainsheet tackle as a cargo derrick?
A step takes a lot of the peril out of boarding
The main boom makes a convenient derrick for transferring heavy items between tender and deck