A recent tragedy in the British Virgin Islands serves as a sobering and serious reminder about dinghy safety, and in particular, the importance of using a kill switch.
What happened? After dark, someone hit an obstruction, fell off the dinghy, and appears to have been struck by the dinghy’s prop. This indicates they likely weren’t using a kill switch.
Before you operate a dinghy on your next yacht charter trip, consider reviewing these these simple, but important principles.
Easy on the painkillers
Are you going to get stopped by authorities for operating the dinghy after a few beach bar drinks in most charter destinations? Very unlikely. But that’s not the point.
Alcohol will impair your judgment and physical abilities (especially if you’re bouncing on waves during a wet dinghy ride).
Choose someone responsible to be your DDD (designated dinghy driver).
Use the outboard kill switch
If you fall off the dinghy without using the kill switch, it will run in circles until it runs out of gas. This is an extremally dangerous situation if you end up in the water.
The kill switch quickly stops the engine and propeller if used correctly. Make sure it is tied off securely to the operators wrist.
You should also insist on a kill switch that’s in good shape with a functioning velcro strap. Not an old one that has a loop tied with an overhand knot.
Bring a handheld VHF radio
I once almost got myself in a pickle after we left dinner at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. It was dark, and as soon as we got 50 meters off the dock, the dinghy engine sputtered and died.
It was mid-tide change and the notorious Exuma current was quickly taking us off course. This isn’t something we easily could have rowed against even though we weren’t going very far.
It turns out someone’s foot was pinching the dinghy fuel line, and we got the engine restarted after a couple pulls. But, I had forgotten to bring the VHF as a backup to radio for help, if needed. What if we weren’t able to get the engine going?
Many charter companies do not provide a handheld, portable VHF. Plan to bring your own and add it to your list of charter gear. This is the Cobra model that we bring - it’s affordable, waterproof, and has all the features you need for a yacht charter trip.
It doubles as a good way to keep in touch during the day if your crew splits up.
If it’s dark, light it up and go slow
It’s easier than you think to get disoriented in a dark mooring field after dinner.
Have a way to identify your yacht, and more importantly, bring one or two bright flashlights to light your course. Headlamps and cell phones lights do not cut it.
And apply common sense. Use a speed that’s appropriate for night-time conditions. Go slow!
Watch your fuel
I almost learned this the hard way too. Don’t assume that tank of gas will last for your week-long charter trip. This is especially true if you have a full crew that really puts the engine to work.
If you are planning long runs or excursions in the dinghy, be even more vigilant.
Check the fuel level each day and don’t risk it if you’re low. Some charter companies will bring you a new tank. Otherwise, all fuel docks should be able to help mix you a fresh batch of 2-stroke fuel.
Verify your dinghy equipment before you leave the dock
Aside from dropping the dinghy in the water and starting it up yourself, make sure you have the right equipment to operate it safely. Be sure to check country-specific requirements, but at a minimum, have these items for your yacht charter trip.
Functional kill switch
PFDs - you may not need these for short dinghy rides, but what if you are heading out a mile or so for a snorkel run? Always have them with kids.
Dinghy painter for tying off or towing
Full fuel tank
Dinghy air pump
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