We spoke to Genevieve White from Marine SafetyWorks who prepares yachts for both racing and cruising safety, and teaches World Sailing Safety and Sea Survival, Marine First Aid and Marine Radio. She has extensive personal experience in inshore, coastal and long distance offshore racing, cruising and deliveries.

– Where does Australia stand safety wise compared to where we were 10 years ago?
It is an interesting question. Overall, and particularly since the 1998 Sydney to Hobart, I think the racing world has made some big improvements to the safety attitude of both owners and crews to ensure that race preparation for performance is integrated with safety preparation, procedures and training. The race requirements for formal course training, auditing of equipment and proof of servicing have been a big part of this. The cruising world is far less regimented, so it then comes down to the attitude of the person in charge. Factors which both advance and inhibit the safety position include knowledge, experience, and cost.

While I have seen dramatic improvements over time, there is the risk of becoming complacent and we must remain vigilant in keeping safety at the forefront. That means repeated training, ongoing development of equipment, and sound procedures put into place and practiced onboard. Unfortunately, accidents do occur, but this approach is aimed at minimising them and their effect.

– We all know the importance of training, however in your view how often should training be updated?
The World Sailing/Australian Sailing Safety and Sea Survival training must be updated at least every five years if using the certificate for racing requirements, and I would thoroughly recommend it for cruising sailors as well, particularly prior to long trips. I have sailors who have completed four or five Sea Survival courses with me over the years and the predominant feedback I get is how valuable it has been to refresh knowledge, learn about new equipment developments, and to experience the practical drills with lifejackets, tethers and liferafts as a great reminder that prevention is better than cure. Safety training (and repeated training) both in the classroom and on the water helps to bring safety back to the front of the mind to ensure it is an integral part of time at sea.

– Do you feel there is enough importance attached to crew briefings?
I think this is an area which can be improved upon. I have hinted at it in the question about training whereby formal training needs to be put into practice. A briefing ensures that all crew know what is expected, how the boat has been set up, what procedures will apply, what equipment is onboard and what their role is both on a daily basis, and in an emergency. I run briefings annually for boats with both professional and amateur crews with the aim to get everybody onto the same page, and to set out and reinforce specific boat rules and expectations.

– Global safety suppliers are constantly improving existing products or launching new concepts. What are the best ways for sailors to keep up to date with these improvements?
I believe that newsletters, magazines and promotional articles create a good introduction to what is available, but it is also important to research more deeply and ask questions from those who are directly involved in marine safety equipment and training. Be sensibly wary of offhand dockside advice without supporting it with accurate research.

– In which direction do you think safety equipment would need to evolve the most?
For personal gear, the overall aim is to keep it on the body as much as possible while at sea. That means well fitted, comfortable, lightweight yet robust, accessible equipment with easy functioning. That is asking a lot, but equipment is continually evolving which is great news. Importantly for the end user, quality is important in both materials and design, and ease of access to registration and servicing is vital where required.

– Do you believe there is sufficient awareness on servicing and updating safety equipment?
I think that servicing for race boats is reinforced by the racing requirements, but it still amazes me how many people have equipment which has never been checked and has been sitting on a boat for years. Materials do deteriorate over time, even in good conditions. Batteries do go flat. Electronic equipment like EPIRBs and Personal Locator Beacons, can have unseen internal damage caused by impact, salt air, or time. And most importantly, designs can change for the better. Regular assessment of the status of equipment is vital to ensure an ever improving safety environment.