February 10, 2018 by James Kell

Boat Safety Briefing - Tips

How to give a great safety briefing

As the captain, you will need to give a safety briefing. Let’s make you great at it. Watch the video below and give us some feedback in the comments! Thanks.


Safety and boat briefings made simple

The value of a good safety briefing is obvious. But there are other benefits. As well as having your crew better informed about safety and what to do in an emergency, a good safety briefing has you setting the tone on the boat. It establishes how you as the captain will run the boat.

This post looks at the nuts and bolts of a safety briefing, then goes into more detail about the soft skills behind it all. Ultimately this will help make you a more effective skipper.

First: the 3-Minute General Safety Briefing

boat safety brief

This is for everybody, within the first half hour of getting on your boat. The trick is brevity. Three points in three minutes. The power of three is widely researched and report. One very effective way to give this brief is by getting them to suggest what the three worst scenarios are. This sounds dark but actually builds confidence, really. Read on...

You could say something like, "there are three really bad things that can happen on this boat. Somebody tell me one of them". You’ll be surprised how every time, sometimes with a bit of steering, they will guess the items themselves. This is great as it gives you a chance to show some love, to reward them as being smart.

Here they are in no particular order:

1. Man Overboard (MOB)

If someone falls overboard, yell out "Man Overboard" and point. Continue pointing at the person overboard until they are physically back on the boat. Impress upon them how easy it is to completely lose track of a person who is in the water, and therefore the need to keep pointing.

2. Fire

If anyone smells gas, that person's job is to tell everyone on the boat. Not just their cabin mate. Not just the captain. Everybody. Gas is heavier than air and boats are waterproof, so any gas leak will mean the gas will just collect inside the boat.

3. Hitting Something

The key point to convey here is that you as the captain will never be offended if someone confirms that you have seen an object that the boat is heading towards. If you don't do this then you haven't given people the licence to ask the question or make the suggestion.

safety on boatsStepbrothers conduct an MOB drill...

Summarizing the 3-Minute Safety Brief

Listed above are the three things. At the end, I do a pop quiz to ask random people what each one is and what the remedy/preventative measure is. That's it. You need to have your safety brief be succinct and memorable.

To draw a line under that general safety briefing, tell them to go and find their life jackets, and put them on.

This breaks things up a bit and fulfills an important part of the safety brief. Then you can go onto your boat briefing.

quick safety brief

Next: the Extended Safety Brief

The extended safety briefing presents the following ten points:

1) Life Jackets (starts at 4:06)

How to put them on, when they should be worn. In the Caribbean, the water is warm, which alleviates a big risk. Hence during the day, unless it is foul weather, and provided the crew can swim, we generally sail without wearing deck vests.

2) Gas (starts at 5:47)

How to turn the gas on, as part of the gas system works on the boat. What to do if there is a fire (this is where you show the location of the fire blanket and the extinguishers).

One important note that I forgot to do in the Youtube video: turn the solenoid (or gas valve) off before turning it off at the stove. Yes, this burns the gas in the line, but that’s not the important thing. The important thing is this: if there is a problem with your solenoid or gas valve such that it does not work, you will see the flame stay on. So it’s a very simple, very important safety check. And I forgot to do it. Sorry.

3) Fire Extinguisher (starts at 6:12)

Where they are, and how to deploy them. Actually, take one off and hand it around, so people can touch it with their own hands. Even better, ask your student to take it off and find the pin, those sorts of things.

4) First Aid Kits (starts at 6:39)

On Libertas, we have three first aid kits. At the simple end is a kit containing band-aids and antiseptic. At the complex end we have a Cat C Ocean-Crossing sealed first aid kit. Let people know where the kits are and that anyone can use the daily kit.

5) Radio Use (starts at 7:14)

This is mainly to show your crew how to give a Mayday. You don't want them to get caught up in the minutiae of Mayday procedure. You just need to let them know how to turn on the radio, how to find channel 16, and to give the location of the vessel. Everything else is a bonus.

6) EPIRB (starts at 7:49)

Where it is, a little bit about how it works. Main thing to let them know is to remove it from its holder and to take it with them, or (depending on the type) it may not ever switch on.

7) Life Raft (starts at 8:49)

Show where it is and how it works. Let your crew member know that this is a last resort, for when the keel falls of or some other catastrophe happens, and that it is not to be used as a "things are bad so let's get into the life raft" device.

8) Grab Bag (starts at 9:20)

For longer journeys you need to go through what is in the grab bag and where it is. Drill it into your crew that should a catastrophe happen, to grab the grab bag on the way to the life raft.

9) Flares Kit (starts at 10:08)

Where they are, how they work, when to use them. Again, pass them around, have your students remove the box, then hold the flares, so they load that into their subconscious.

10) Man Overboard (starts at 10:41)

The briefing here is not to teach your crew member how to perform a MOB recovery. That comes later. The key is to show him/her how to stop the boat: how turn on the engine, how to turn off the autopilot, how to use the throttle; just the basics in case you should fall off before you have taught anyone the MOB recovery procedure.

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Other elements in the Extended Briefing

While you are heading around the boat with this person, you can show them a few more things. Put some daylight between your extended safety briefing (listed above) and these other items, as they are in a “separate chapter” so to speak.

Emergency tiller. Show the crewmember where it is and where it plugs in to.

Dinghy. Let your crewmember know it is another rescue device. It is actually more accessible than your liferaft and especially in the Caribbean, where islands are generally within sight at all times and there is plenty of traffic, is a valid rescue aid.

Heads. Show your crewmember how to operate the heads, plus little tricks like pumping it long enough to evacuate the lines (to avoid smells), not to pump an electric heads dry, not to put anything “except what you eat and drink” in the heads, and how to open and close the holding tank valve.

Hatches. How to close them properly, how to lock them.

Leashes. How they work, when they are used, what to clip into.

Bilge Pumps. Where they are, where they turn on, have a look at the bilge.

Anchor. How to free-drop the anchor if the electrics are out.


Safety briefings can be engaging. In fact, they need to be: you can give the best safety brief ever, but if your crew isn't paying attention, you have just wasted everyone's time. Instead, give a very brief safety briefing for everyone, then find one or two individuals who show particular interest, and give them an extended briefing.

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