Sailing Shorthanded Offshore

A webinar recording from March 12, 2022 presented by Storm Trysail Club, New York Yacht Club, Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, and the Cruising Club of America.


Offshore Sailing Leadership Symposium

In November 2020, over 100 experienced leaders were invited by the Storm Trysail Club for the first ever Offshore Sailing Leadership Symposium. Held virtually over a video conference, the event aimed to create recommendations to change safety at sea training to improve offshore safety through better leadership skills and practices. The Symposium featuring Sir Robin Knox-Johnson as a keynote speaker, sailing experts, and other professionals in leadership roles sharing their experiences to shape a better conversation. These are those panel discussions edited for time.


Heavy Weather Sails, Sailing and Weather

A Storm Trysail Club Safety at Sea Seminar lecture. This one hour seminar presented by Ed Cesare and Rich duMoulin.


Damage Control: "Don't Give Up The Ship" Safety Seminar

Veteran America’s Cup and offshore sailor Rich du Moulin shares his knowledge as it applies to damage control in recreational sailing followed by a panel of five skippers describing their own survival tactics in actual disasters at sea ranging from a broken mast to fire, flooding, and sinking.

This is a crossed burgee event sponsored by the Cruising Club of America, the Storm Trysail Club, and the North American Station of the Royal Scandinavian Yacht Clubs and Nyländska Jaktklubben.


Advances in Man Overboard Recovery Seminar

This 2-hour seminar hosted in Spring 2021 was crossed burgee event sponsored by the Cruising Club of America, the Storm Trysail Club, and the New York Yacht Club, that invited experts to share their experiences, insights, and knowledge in how to prevent and manage a crew overboard emergency situation.


Safety at Sea Moderator's Remarks On Leadership and Seamanship

"The Goal is to Learn through Telling Stories" - Rich duMoulin


The end of this video has questions.

Man Overboard Recovery
Understanding Weather

The end of this video has questions.

Understanding Offshore Weather

The end of this video has questions.

Using Flares & Pyrotechnic Devices

The end of this video has questions.

Storm Sails

The end of this video has questions.

Shipboard Firefighting Strategies
Safety Equipment
Ocean Prediction Center

Deploying a Life Raft

Flighting Shipboard Fires
Emergency Steering

Online Learning Pre-Seminar

More Safety at Sea Online Resources

Helicopter Rescue

Here is a US Coast Guard video on what to do if you are being rescued at sea by a helicopter. There is also an accompanying PDF that you should print out, laminate and keep aboard so that all crew members can read it as well.

Here is a US Coast Guard video on what to do if you are being rescued at sea by a helicopter. There is also an accompanying PDF that you should print out, laminate and keep aboard so that all crew members can read it as well.

Excerpts from The Art of Seamanship, courtesy of Ralph Naranjo

Damage Control

Damage Control Videos by Yachting Monthly



Practical MOB Recovery Answers

What is the primary goal of the Quick Stop?

To stay close to the MOB

When sailing upwind and there is an MOB, what does the Helmsman do?

Yell "Hold on! Tacking! Don’t touch the jib sheet!" And tack the boat.

What else is done immediately after hearing "Man Overboard?

Pull pin on MOM8, throw flotation, Pointer, push MOB button. Helmsman may be closest to MOM and must very quickly pull the pin and tack the boat.

Why does Pointer use his arm to point at MOB?

To ensure that he doesn't lose sight of the MOB

What makes up the MOM8?

Tall pylon with strobe, horseshoe life ring, sea anchor

Why throw lots of flotation?

To mark the area and make it easier to get back if lose sight of the MOB

Why hit the MOB button?

To make sure you can find the MOB if the Pointer loses sight of him

Immediately after the tack, where is the jib sheet trimmed?

Jib trim is not changed; keep jib aback to stop boat

With the main sheet trimmed and the jib aback, what position is this called?

Hove to

As the main is eased and the boat bears off to a reach, what is done with the jib sheet?

Nothing. It is left aback

As boat bears off to a run, what is done with the jib?

Furled or dropped on the foredeck, with jib sheet still cleated, or eased 2 or 3 feet only

Why isn't the jib sheet fully eased out?

Jib would fly ahead of the boat and be very difficult to drop

When does the boat gybe?

At the end of the run downwind, as you are approaching your turn, and about 1 to 1.5 boat lengths below the MOB

What point of sail is optimum for approaching the MOB? Why?

Close reach because it is easy to luff and trim sails to control speed, and gives you the choice of windward or leeward recovery

What is optimum boatspeed as bow passes MOB?

Less than 2 knots- ideally 1 knot

Is it permissible to use the engine?

You bet! The engine is a huge help in controlling speed

If racing , will the boat be disqualified?

No- racing rules allow use of engine for such an emergency

As the boat pulls alongside the MOB, what does the crew do?

One crew on foredeck or at shrouds uses the throw bag to get a line to the MOB. Other crew grab the MOB and immediately pull him aboard, or get a tether or line secured to the MOB to prevent loss of contact. Cockpit crew have throw lines in case MOB not secured

If the boat is sailing downwind with a spinnaker, what does the Helmsman do?

Yells "Hold on! Ease guy! Tighten fore guy! Coming up!" And rounds boat up to close hauled with sails flogging.

For sail handling, What does the crew immediately do?

Ease guy, tighten fore guy, hold on. If windy, might help to momentarily ease spinnaker sheet ten feet to luff sail, then trim tight once boat has rounded up.

How is spinnaker doused?

With pole near forestay, tighten spinnaker sheet, grab foot of spinnaker, run halyard

When running the halyard, are all the turns taken off the winch?

No! Always leave one or two turns to prevent snags in the halyard

What if the spinnaker halyard snags?

Cut it

What are the components of a Lifesling?

A horseshoe flotation and a long floating line with the end secured on the boat.

While doing the circles to bring the Lifesling line to the MOB, is it necessary to adjust sail trim?

No. The jib can be left aback during the turns. In some conditions on some boats, the main can also be left cleated.

When the MOB makes contact with the Lifesling line, what does the helmsman do?

Stop the boat ASAP so the MOB isn't dragged or lose the horseshoe. Use the engine to help stop. Drop all sails.

Can an MOB hold the Lifesling if the boat is moving at one knot?


Two knots?

Probably not

Name different methods to get the MOB on deck.

Brute force under the lifelines or through the gate. Halyard to MOB's harness or tether. Bowline in the halyard. Lifesling to a halyard. Gale Rider drogue on a halyard.

How do you and your crew prepare for an MOB ?

Practice! Practice! Use a tall mooring buoy. On a calm day, put a swimmer with PFD in the water and practice bringing aboard.

Understanding Offshore Weather Answers

The Gulf Stream is a warm core surface current. Describe its origins and eventual destination.

The Gulf Stream derives energy from the northern branch of the equatorial current (trade winds), becomes the Caribbean and Antilles current that feeds into the Florida Current, and finally becomes the Gulf Stream. Pressing on eastward from New England toward Europe, the Stream becomes the North Atlantic current and splits in two, one branch heading toward Norway and the other toward Portugal.

How are warm and cold core eddies spawned by the Gulf Stream?

Ring like eddies of warm and cold water form in regions where the Gulf Stream's meandering current forms closed loops. These pinched off warm eddies migrate westward between the north wall of the Stream and the mainland. Most are eventually reabsorbed by the Stream. Cold core eddies also form as pinched off meanders, but tend to move toward the east and end up in warmer Sargasso Sea waters.

Describe the current circulation around warm and cold eddies.

Warm core eddies circulate in a clockwise fashion while cold core eddies exhibit a counterclockwise circulation. The spin direction is instigated by how Gulf Stream water flows into the meander as it transitions into a closed ring.

VHF weather broadcasts often contain severe thunderstorm watches or warnings. What is the difference between the two?

A watch means conditions are right for the development of severe thunderstorms while a warning indicates that severe TS have already developed in the watch area.

Gale, Hurricane Force, Small Craft and Storm Warnings are terms used in describing bad weather. List the severity from least to worst and indicate wind speed ranges in knots.

Small Craft 22-33 Gale 34-47 Storm 48-63 Hurricane Force 64<

The National Weather Service provides sailors with multiple sources providing forecast information. Name the three highlighted in this video.

Ocean Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center, Storm Prediction Center

Describe what happens to barometric pressure, the isobar gradient and wind speed as a typical mid latitude low pressure system develops into a gale or storm.

The storm strengthens as the barometer drops and atmospheric pressure decreases causing surface winds circulating around the low to increase. During this process of intensification, the gradient steepens because isobars grow more numerous and appear closer together.

What causes thunderstorm cells to become more volatile as they move over the Gulf Stream?

Thunder storms are in many ways an atmospheric heat engine that thrives on warm moist air and that's just what they find when they reach the north wall of the Gulf Stream. Convective activity increases as cumulonimbus clouds grow higher and higher and the rain and hail that's lifted in these up drafts finally succumb to gravity. The resulting downburst of plunging moisture and air often results in a strong local wind gust. When many cells act in concert a defined outflow boundary of strong wind can occur. When these winds are exceedingly strong they are called a microburst.

Certain geographic regions such as Cape Hatteras have a valid reputation for spawning severe weather conditions. Describe the factors that are involved.

Cape Hatteras, like many notorious capes around the world, stretches seaward projecting sandbars and shoal water almost to the boundary of the Gulf Stream. Upper atmosphere troughs cause surface storms to intensify in this region and there are few harbors of refuge along this shoaling coastline.

Explain why tropical storms, which are much less violent than major hurricanes, need to be treated with respect.

A tropical storm, can and often does become a major hurricane. Waiting too long to take evasive action leaves you with fewer alternatives. A good rule of thumb to follow is - if tropical weather is south of your location and your track will theoretically cross ahead of the storm, it's a bad plan and time to switch gears. Give tropical weather a wide berth, identify a harbor of refuge and if possible stay in port or return to port until the system is out of the forecast.

Flares and Pyrotechnic Devices Answers

Why do I need flares?

For emergencies that occur while at sea, requiring outside assistance especially when self rescue is not possible.

Why learn about Flares?

Sailors need to be familiar with the pyrotechnics carried on board in order to safely maximize effectiveness and increase their ability to alert potential rescuers.

How do I exercise caution when handling Flares?

  • Read directions
  • Wear safety glasses and welding gloves.
  • Pack glasses and gloves with your flares.
  • Always hold the hand flares over the water as hot slag will drip from the flare.
  • Never point at a person.
  • Never look down the tube.
  • If flare does not activate hold away from body for 1 minute and drop into the water.

What is a SOLAS Orange Smoke?

  • Produces dense orange smoke – do not inhale.
  • For day distress signaling only.

What is a SOLAS Red Hand Held Flare?

  • Use when the rescuer has been alerted and is near.
  • The visibility of the flare is limited to the maximum height of the individual holding the hand flare.
  • Light intensity 15,000 candella.
  • Burning time 60 seconds.
  • For Day and Night distress signaling.

What is a SOLAS Red Parachute Rocket?

  • Ejects a rocket projectile 1,000 feet that is suspended by a parachute.
  • Visible for up to 30 miles.
  • For Day and Night distress signaling.

When should I use Pyrotechnic alerting devices?

  • Use only when aircraft or vessel is sighted!
  • Start with a Parachute Rocket,
  • Visibility up to 30 miles,
  • Burn time up to 40 seconds.
  • Once a rescuer is alerted, guide them to your direction with a Red Hand held flare or Orange Smoke.

How to Ignite an Orange Smoke?


  • Put the wind to your back.
  • Pull flare out of grip tube.
  • Unscrew cap.
  • Pull ignition cord firmly.
  • Hold flare at end of grip while burning.
  • When extinguished drop in water.

How do ignite a SOLAS Red Parachute Rocket?

  • 3 Minute Floating Orange Smoke Distress Signal
  • Read instructions.
  • Use only when aircraft or vessel is sighted!
  • Day time use only.
  • Remove plastic cap, point away from body.
  • Pull ring firmly away from canister. Ensure hand remains clear of hot end.
  • Throw smoke signal overboard immediately.
  • Smoke will be emitted after 2 seconds delay.

When are flares used?

  • Flares are an active signal
  • Red parachute rocket: Day & Night
  • Red hand flare: Day & Night
  • Orange smoke: Day

What will I learn from Hands on Flare Training?

  • How to safely handle flares.
  • When to use each flare, based on day or night.
  • Identify and read the instructions.
  • How to read the flare expiration label.
  • Proper disposal.

Storm Sails Answers

1. Will a storm trysail or storm jib fit any boat or do their sizes depend upon the specific boat?

Storm sails must be measured for the specific boat. Bigger heavier boats can use bigger storm sails. Racing yacht storm sail areas must meet rule requirements .

2. What color should storm sails be?

Orange for visibility by ships and search planes but can be white with orange patches

3. Name two places to sheet a storm trysail.

Normally a trysail is trimmed to the spinnaker sheet blocks. This is easy and usually the best way to initially set it. However, It can also be trimmed by a reef out haul at the end of the boom for more efficient trimming. If lead to the boom, the trysail sheet may need to be stropped down forward of the end of the boom to improve the lead angle.

4. What are typical true wind velocity ranges for one reef ,two reef, or three reefs in the mainsail? Why not just luff the mainsail?

For most racing boats, 20-30 Kts one reef, 30-38 two reefs, 38-45 three reefs, then storm trysail. Cruising boats may want to reef sooner. You never want to allow prolonged luffing in heavy air. This will destroy the mainsail.

5. What is the typical wind range of storm sails?

Racing boats usually go to a storm jib and third reef at 38-40 Kts, and storm jib-storm trysail at 45 Kts. Cruising boats often hoist storm sails in 30 Kts.

6. Which storm sail do you set first?

Usually the storm jib is set with a double or triple reeled mainsail. When the wind continues to increase, the trysail should replace the mainsail.

7. When preparing to set a storm jib, do you do a "racing" change with the bigger jib still flying?

No - it is safer and usually faster to douse and stow the big jib (usually the number three or four jib) before bringing the storm jib forward to hoist. You don't want to risk big seas sweeping sails overboard, tearing out lifelines and threatening crew.

8. Why is it better to fly a storm trysail than have a bare mast?

The trysail helps stabilize the mast in big seas. It also helps to have a moderately tight (but not extremely tight) back stay to ensure there is "positive" bend in the mast to prevent the mast from "inverting" where the middle of the mast bends aft and the mast becomes unstable. Runners can hold the moderate positive bend and prevent over bending.

9. What can be done to prepare a storm jib to make setting it safer and easier?

a. You can roll the sail towards the luff and tie it in yarn stops.

10. The storm jib is trimmed and now you want to drop the main and hoist a trysail; what sailing technique helps slow the boat and make it safer and easier?

You should back the jib in the "heave to" position, and balance its leeward force with the helm.

11. What is the benefit of having a second track on your mast dedicated to the trysail?

It is much safer and easier to prepare and hoist the trysail- no need to stand up or climb onto the boom to slide the trysail into the track above the mainsail. If you also have a second main halyard, try hoisting the trysail before dousing the mainsail. It reduces flogging and is much easier. (courtesy of Carol Hasse, Port Townsend Sails)

12. Does is make sense to practice setting storm sails in normal sailing conditions?

You must set your storm sails in good weather in order to mark locations of the tack line and sheet trim location on the trysail, and the sheet lead for the storm jib.

13. What can you do to prevent the head and tack of storm sails from pulling out of the headstay foil or mast track/slot?

Use sail ties to strop the head and tack to the headstay foil or mast. Also, the sailmaker should have extra slides or slugs at the tack and head of the trysail,, and extra hanks (or luff tape) at the head of the storm jib.

14. If you expect a severe storm, what should you do with the mainsail and boom?

Consider tying up the mainsail securely and stowing it below. Also consider lowering the aft end of the boom and tie it to the deck very securely.

Shipboard Firefighting Strategies Answers

Correct answer in BOLD

Before heading offshore you should?

A) Cut your toothbrush in half to save weight

B) Rethink your decision

C) Assign each crew member a task should a fire or other emergency break out onboard

D) Take inventory your beer and wine supplies.

Upon discovery of a fire onboard you should take the following steps?

A) Locate and begin extinguishing the fire

B) Deploy liferafts, de-energize the vessel

C) Prepare to abandon your vessel, call for assistance, de-energize your vessel begin firefighting operations

D) Find your fire extinguishers

Fire extinguishers should be placed?

A) In clearly marked areas

B) In an area that isn't near a "likely fire location" (engine area, galley)

C) In an exterior storage area so you can go below with an extinguisher in hand

D) All of the above

When fighting a fire you should utilize the "2 in 2 out" rule for maximum safety?

A) True

B) False

Utilizing the "2 in 2 out" rule gives you a partner to make sure ?

A) Your safest form of egress is behind you

B) The fire doesn't get behind you, trapping you below

C) That the fire hasn't grown beyond your capabilities

D) All of the above

What is overhaul?

A) A methodical breakdown of the fire area to ensure that it hasn't spread and it completely extinguished

B) The process of rebuilding

C) Not necessary on a boat

D) Something that should be left to the boat yard upon your return to shore

Once you have the fire out you should?

A) Celebrate

B) Check for extension and begin overhaul

C) Re-energize the boat and notify responders that the fire is out and you're headed for the nearest port

D) B & C

Clipper Crew Safety Brief

Founder and Chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston has prepared the following safety update for all Clipper 2017-18 Race crew:

Ocean yacht racing has its risks. But by far the best way to minimise those risks is a culture of safety and constant vigilance amongst all ocean yachtsmen, including Clipper Race Crews. Staying safe must be a paranoia. We train people to a high level, but if they forget the rules accidents will happen. So our crew, as with all sailors, must ultimately take responsibility for their own safety.

The best way to avoid going overboard, from which a live recovery cannot be guaranteed, is to always clip on. It is equally important to be alert and avoid being in any place where highly loaded lines and fittings may fail and injure you, whether that be near the mainsheet, outside a foresail sheet or standing within the loop of a lazy line.

However, as a consequence of the two fatal accidents in the 2015-16 race, the first in our 20-year history, we have had consultations with all of the skippers and the experts within the Clipper Race team and this is where we are at the moment.

Boom and Track

On account of the fatality of a crew member stepping over the main boom track in breach of our standard procedures and being struck by the main boom, or sheet block, in an uncontrolled gybe, we are putting some high visibility stripes in the way of the main track as a further reminder, beyond the obvious position of the track and attendant winches themselves.

The rule for some time, when not close hauled, has been that everyone is to go under the track to avoid injury. However, a culture of avoiding the area around the main sheet track is by far the most important factor in reducing such accidents, which is a message that will continue to be emphasised in our training.

Foreguys (Preventer)

Main boom foreguys have been used in all our races and have been successfully used on yachts and sailing vessels for hundreds of years. They are mistakenly called Preventers, but this is a misnomer as they cannot prevent an uncontrolled gybe, only the helmsman can, which is the reason we give learning to steer so much emphasis. The strains on these foreguys is considerable when the mainsail is backed and they may part.

We have been experimenting with some form of dampening to reduce the slamming across of the main boom in these situations to something a bit more controlled but so far have not come up with a workable solution. We continue to work on this.

Helm Storage

A small change we will be making is that we are not going to stow water bottles or large items in the pockets in front of the helm positions. The reasons are two-fold: Firstly it cuts down the traffic past the main track, and secondly it will reduce the blockages to the protective matting.

Lifejackets and MOB Recovery

The Lifejackets we use are specially made for the Clipper Race based on experience. They are robust, include the safety harness, have had metal instead of plastic clips for the past ten years as we found plastic clips could fail some years ago. The becket (lifting strap) that was fitted for the 2015-16 race works to speed recovery in an MOB situation.

We do not intend to change our method of recovery of someone in the water as the present system works, but we feel the special large hook we now provide, that is attached to a halyard and can be speedily clipped into the new lifejacket becket, is the fastest solution at the moment for hauling someone out of the water. It avoids the difficulties we have experienced trying to get a strop over the casualty.

The boats will continue to be equipped with the MOB practice dummies as a part of their equipment, that, when immersed, weigh 75 Kgs, so crews continue to have realistic practice of a recovery.

Tethered MOB

After the skipper of a Reflex 38 was drowned whilst still tethered to the boat, and it was unclear as to why, we decided to check what exactly happens when a person is still attached to a moving boat. The results were a surprise. The 75Kg weight dummy did not float on its back as expected, but on its face, which meant water inhalation was inevitable followed quickly by drowning. This is when we ruled two races ago that in the event of someone tethered going overside,the boat has to be flung into the wind and put aback to stop the casualty being dragged forward.

AIS Beacons

As a result of lessons learned during the successful MOB recovery in the 2013-14 race we immediately fitted AIS beacons to the Dan Buoys on the whole fleet so that we could get back to the vicinity of a person in the water more quickly, which is essential for a safe recovery. However we feel that to be really safe we should have these beacons in all the crew lifejackets as well and this will be introduced for the 2017-18 race. We will continue to fit the Dan Buoys with a beacon as an additional safety feature, but are looking for a system that will activate this beacon automatically. This is work in progress.

As we have explained, PLB’s transmit to a satellite, and that signal then has to be passed to an MRCC. The Coastguard have told us that by the time they get the message out an hour can have passed during which a casualty will suffer life-threatening hypothermia. So we have chosen the AIS system as it gives a signal to the nearest source of rescue, the boat someone and fallen from. The answer is, and always will be of course, don’t go overside in the first place.

Sea Survival Training

The regulations do not require us to send crews on the Sea Survival course. However we feel it improves safety and the crews benefit from the experience. So we shall continue to send crews on selected Sea Survival courses that are approved by the MCA for the fishing industry, the RYA and World Sailing (formally ISAF) that represent the current industry best practice, and we share with these providers our experiences.

Guard Rails

No one knows for certain how we lost a crew member overside in April 2016, although we do know that the cause was that they omitted to clip on their safety harness. Because of this uncertainty and because they could have slipped beneath the guard rails, we laced these up as a temporary measure in Seattle. During this current refit (2016-17) we are putting two additional guard wires through the stanchions to provide four guard wires all round so that the gap between will not be large enough to allow a body through.

Clipper Race Coxswain Certificate

Quite a few crew are taking the MCA approved Coxswain Course designed to provide someone with the knowledge on board to get the boat to the nearest port in the event of the skipper being indisposed. The system worked well during Leg 3 of the last race when one skipper was incapacitated and the Coxswain took over. This course consists of the full RYA Yachtmaster Offshore theory syllabus followed by the tailored practical training aboard our much larger and heavier yachts and adapted especially for ocean sailing. It has been designed in conjunction with and approved by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

So in conclusion I return to my opening remarks and the essence of good seamanship is Safety, Safety, Safety.


Clipper Race Chairman