We spent the weekend in Newport, Rhode Island at the US Sailing sanctioned Safety at Sea course. We spent all day Saturday at the Hyatt on Goat Island along with several hundred attendees gathered to listen to world authorities on sailing and boating. These were literally the people who have "written the book" on the subject, including John Rousmaniere (The Annapolis Book of Seamanship, amongst others) and Ralph Naranjo (The Art of Seamanship) and Captain Henry Marx (founder, Landfall Navigation).
The collective experience of all those gathered in the room was unparalleled and we all benefited from the presented materials, which covered everything from "Developing a Safety Ethos" to putting safety into practice by learning how to select and use equipment and increasing your chances for survival in an extreme threat to your vessel or her crew. The seminar materials were brought to life by real life experiences of heavy weather, fire, injury, and sinking, contributed by attendees and presenters alike.
The inclination of sailors towards bawdy humor is matched by the deep respect that they have for the sea, and this is more than evident in the rapidity with which the shared belly laughs are quickly juxtaposed with their change in countenance once a story of accident or loss is apparent. These are reflexively accepted universally and tacitly as teaching moments being received from an elegist.
On the second day, we split off into groups of those who chose to focus on medical training and those who chose to do the hands-on, in-pool training. Most sailors and boaters, even those who have spent thousands of hours and miles on the water, have never experienced immersion with their full foul weather gear. Hopefully they never will, but this training gave us the opportunity to experience what it is like, how to deploy and right an overturned life raft, and how to clamber in to the life raft (it's not easy). We also got hands-on experience with a complete range of safety gear, tools, and survival aids. Detailed discussions of fire, signal flares, and personal electronics aids, such as EPIRBs, VHF radios, personal locator beacons, and AIS, were extremely helpful as well.
We all hope we'll never need any of these skills, but the process of thinking through the scenarios of what could go wrong and how we would handle them, will make us better seamen and very likely will sharply increase our chances for survival if we ever do in fact need these skills.
This course provides not only a qualification for entry in the Newport Bermuda Race but, in combination with the in-pool training, provides the participant with International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Offshore Personal Survival certification.