Rescue Boat Duty


Dinghy sailing is a very safe sport with a very very low chance of anyone being seriously injured or killed.  In many ways this is because we are not travelling very fast, we wear plenty of padding  and if we fall out we fall into nice soft water with our buoyancy aid already inflated.  However we cannot let safety standards slip as the water is often very cold, we cannot breath under water and if a boat crashes into you it will injure you.


As sailors we have a responsibility to our crew and ourselves not to put ourselves (or  rescuers) in danger by going sailing without looking at the weather forecast and going out sailing when the conditions can reasonably be expected to push us or our boats  beyond our capabilities.  This is not to say that we should not go out sailing if there is a fair chance that we will capsize, but it does mean that if we go out and capsize then we should be able to right the boat quickly and sail to safety, or carry on sailing without outside help. It also means that we should check the rigging regulary.


The primary role of the rescue boat is to save lives not boats. In an extreme emergency  rescue boats may go round boats on the water collecting crew and bring them in to save their lives.  A rescue boat may be standing by you, or helping you if you have capsized but if someone else is in danger they shouldleave you to check a recently capsized boatThe crew of a capsized boat are considered to be “in danger” until the rescue boats have seen or asked if they are well. 

The second major role is to do no harm, The rescue boat and its engine can do significant damage to people, boats sails and masts if it is not driven carefully. Boats and people will be approached slowly and the engine turned off before helping people in the water. Rescue boat crew should not put their own lives in danger. Rescue boats should not be driven at high speed without good reason. 

The rescue crew will help sailors develop their skills in a safe environment by standing by capsized boats and offering support whilst the crew right the boat.

The rescue crew will bring in broken boats or crew to the club. 


a) Arrive at the Sailing Club at least 1 hour before the scheduled start of the days racing. Get changed into warm waterproof clothing and a buoyancy aid then report to the rescue crew at the boathouse door. 

b) The rescue Crew will be picking boats for the day, fuelling them up and launching themYou can check that each boat has a paddle, anchor and anchor rope, radio(from the committee room), ropes for pulling boats, bailer, First aid Kit, fire extinguisher  and that the bung is in the back of the boat.  Report anything missing to the rescue boat crew. 

c) The rescue boat crew will launch the rescue boats with the tractor. Keep out of the way of the tractor. You could offer to get into the rescue boat and paddle it to the jetty where you can tie it to a cleat with a number 8/OXO knot or round turn and two half hitches. Tug it to check it is OK.

d) The rescue crew will bring in one of the start boats and moor it to jetty. Unless you are an experienced powerboat driver let them do this. 

e) There will normally be two rescue boats. One manned by two paid crew and the other with a paid crew and a volunteer.The paid crew will be the driver. If it is very calm only one boat may be used whilst the second boat is left moored on the jetty just in case. In this case the volunteer should go out on the start boat to learn the duties of the Officer of the Day and help by putting up flags, sounding horns etc.

f) At least one of the rescue boats will accompany the start boat to the start area. The start boat may ask the rescue boat to move marks of the course, lay a start line or move the start line buoys.  This is easiest done by wrapping a short rope around the base of the buoy and holding tight whilst the rescue boat pulls the buoy and its very heavy anchor.  Watch the start boat and listen to the radio for signals when to drop the buoy. 

g) One rescue boat should stay by the start boat until the start whilst the other should cover boats coming from the Sailing club. Boats are quite likely to capsize or break things on the way to the start area. The rescue boat by the start boat may need to follow a boat that has started to tell them they crossed the line too soon.

h) When the club holds a class open meeting it is quite likely that one of the rescue boats will be asked to act as a pathfinder driving ahead of the leading boats to show where to go. It is of course very important that the rescue crew have fully understood the racing course. 

i) The volunteer helper and driver have to watch all the boats on the water all the time to see if any boats or crew are in danger. You need to do this by having a viewpoint where you can see all the boats or by keep looking around.  Through experience you will learn when a boat is about to capsize before it actually does by watching the gusts of wind and the boats motion. As soon as the boats mast hits the water shout “boat over” and point with your hand, then hold on. The rescue boat driver should respond by shouting  hold on and accelerating to full speed to get to the capsized boat quickly, so that you can check that the crew are not trapped or injured and able to right the boat. 

j) As you approach a capsized boat you need to be looking for the people on the boat. If you can see them does it look as though anyone if injured or calling for help? Talk to the driver. 

k) As the volunteer you also need to watch out for other boats, swimmers or buoys in the water in front of you. Tell the driver where they are.

l) if the crew of the capsized boat are fine and have started righting the boat as you get there then your boat will  slow down but stand by until the boat is upright.  It is polite to ask if they are fine or need assistance. 

m) If the crew of the capsized boat appear to be having difficulty righting the boat then the rescue crew should ask if they need help. If they do the driver will put the rescue boat so you can reach the front of the boat to get the painter so that you can turn the capsized boat head to wind, making it easier to right. The volunteer can then right the boat by reaching over the front of your boat and slowly lifting the forestay or mast, allowing time for the crew to climb in. 

n) If the mast of the boat is stuck in the mud at the bottom of the lake it is very likely that the rescue boat will need to provide help. The best way to provide help is to give the crew on the boat a rope to wrap 2 or 3 times around the base of the centreboard.  As the rescue boat backs off the crew of the capsized boat hold the rope. The pull of the rescue boat in line with the mast should readily pull the mast out of the mud without breaking it.  There are other ways to pull the mast out but they put more strain on the mast and fragile carbon fibre masts are easily broken. 

Once the boats mast is out of the mud then the crew should be able to bring the boat flat and right it, after they have untied the rescue boats rope.

o) If the crew of a capsized boat are unable to right their boat because they are exhausted or very cold then the rescue boat should bring them in to the club. They can be taken back out later when the have recovered, and when other boats have finished racing. If very few boats are capsizing then the rescue boat could  tow the capsized boat back to the club.

p) Even when the rescue boat is helping capsized boats the driver and volunteer should be keeping watch for capsizing boats. 

Where to put your boat:-

If you put it in the middle of the course you will be close to anyone capsizing, though you may need to keep moving to avoid sailing boats. You also have boats all around you so it is difficult to watch them all.

If you put it close to the windward mark you can watch all the boats easily and you will be going down the waves so you can get to them quickly without the hull slamming into waves.

If you put the boat close to the gybe mark you will be close to where most people will capsize and have a good view of all the boats.  You should not however be downwind of the leeward mark as you would then need to go upwind to rescue anyone.

q) Even if the wind is calm we still need to maintain a close watch on boats. People could still trap fingers, bang heads, cut themselves or fall out accidentally. We probably do not need to get to boats needing help as fast so we could anchor, or drift with the engine off. 

r) After racing has finished the rescue boats will remain out to provide rescue cover as boats return to the club and to help the start boat bring in the start line marks. 

s) Once back at the jetty, and the Start boat put on its mooring, the rescue boats can be paddled back onto the trolley and brought up to the boat house with the tractor. 

t) The volunteer can then remove the bung from the stern, leaving it inside the boat, tidy the ropes , paddle, bailer etc, and take any rubbish to the bins. The radios from the rescue boats need to be turned off, returned to the Committee Room and put on charge.

u) Agree with the rescue crew that they don’t need you for anything else. 



  • Be aware that others are listening to your radio messages and that with engines making noise it is difficult to hear. .  Say who you are and who you want to talk to, and repeat  “Neil to Bates” “Neil to Bates” Do You want the mark Here? Do you want the Mark here? 
  • Keep massages short and to the point.


  • Don’t wear a lifejacket . Rescue Crew may need to get into the water to fetch a boat on the shore. 


  • Make sure engine is turned off.
  • Bring people into the rescue boat facing you. 
  • Each crew puts their arm under the casualties arm.
  • Straighten your back against the pull, using your other arm, before lifting further using your legs. 
  • When half in roll the rest in.


  • If you are towing a sailing boat with sails and ropes in the water it is safer to tow the boat, with the crew in, from the back of the rescue boat. The ropes and sails then don’t get wrapped around the propeller. 
  • It is best to ask the crew to tie your tow rope around the mast as this is the strongest point. 
  • Don’t go fast as this increases pressure on the tow. 


  • If someone has a cut apply pressure and raise injury above the heart. 
  • Be aware that there is a bigger and better first aid kit, and more first aiders, in the club. 
  • Use the radio to let the club and start boat know someone is injured. 
  • If someone has become very cold, warm them under the shower with clothes on. 


  • Anchor off , raise engine, drift down, rescue, pull off, engine down, anchor up and off.