Sailing to the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean 1500
Caribbean 1500 Required Equipment List
The event organizers had distributed a "required equipment list" and all boats were expected to have the items. Compliance was checked during the safety inspections, but not necessarily rigorously. For example, we said our compass had been adjusted and had a deviation table, but we didn't have to show the deviation table (which didn't actually exist).
As an aside, I noted that the paper copy of the required equipment list was prominently copyrighted by Cruising Rally Association, so theoretically I shouldn't tell you about the details that were on their list. But I find it hard to believe that they would seriously object to a full discussion of the details as they applied to Night Heron, so I'm going to discuss the details anyway. I was surprised that the list was copyrighted, since in my opinion safety details aren't the type of intellectual property that should be restricted. I think that boaters ought to be willing to freely share their advice about safety, because that's how we can all make boating safer. I think a copyright is better used for things like software, where improper copying and distribution would cause financial harm to the creator.
- Life raft - Night Heron had a brand-new offshore life raft made by Revere.
- EPIRB, must be the type that transmits to a satellite - We had a brand-new, properly registered satellite EPIRB.
- Flares, must be SOLAS approved and not just USCG approved: six red parachute flares (12 recommended), six red handheld flares, and one orange smoke flare - Our flares weren't SOLAS approved, which caused a problem. However, the inspector was able to give us the required SOLAS flares, without charge. This is because they had obtained a quantity of out-of-date SOLAS flares as a donation, and they were willing to give us some. It caused Jeff a little consternation that fresh USCG flares weren't considered acceptable but out-of-date SOLAS flares were.
- Food and water, minimum of 20 gallons of water for each crew member and adequate food supply - This is "ordinary" food and water, not "emergency" food and water. We started out with about 300 gallons of water for four people (and one dog) and had at least a couple of months of provisions. The boat does not have a working watermaker, though a previously-used watermaker is on hand for reinstallation and checkout.
- Emergency water, two gallons for each crew member, separate from ship's main supply - Jeff managed to find big sturdy jugs of water, similar to the type used in water coolers but not as big. I don't remember how big each jug was, but we definitely met this requirement. The water was stowed in a locker under the saloon settees.
- Safety harness and tether for each crew member - We each had a harness and tether. Jeff had a nice Mustang inflatable PFD with built-in harness, CiCi brought her own inflatable PFD/harness, Greta used a harness/tether provided by Jeff, and I brought my own harness with two tethers. We kept a tether permanently attached to each jackline (port and starboard) and led the ends into the cockpit. That way, Jeff and CiCi didn't have to carry around a tether attached to their harness. When they needed to go on deck, they could just clip-in to a tether that was already attached to a jackline.
- Lifejackets, USCG Type 1 for each crew member - We met this requirement, but Jeff decided to store them under the fore and aft berths. Because of this, they were not readily available, however we each had an additional PFD that was readily available. For Jeff and CiCi this was their inflatable PFD/harness, and for Greta and John this was a vest-type PFD provided by Jeff. The rules of the boat required everyone to wear a PFD while in the cockpit or on-deck.
- Medical kit and manuals - We had a reasonably good medical kit consisting of lots of separate items that Jeff purchased at drug stores, etc. I'm not sure if we had manuals, but our medical kit didn't include anything advanced enough to require instruction manuals. We all were pretty well-versed in the sort of basic procedures that you might use on a short voyage, and if we ran into anything more complicated, we could ask for help using the radios or satphone.
- SSB radio programmed to send and receive 4036, 4042, 4048, 4054, and 8188 kHz, as well as 4, 8, 12, and 16 MHz distress frequencies monitored by the Coast Guard - Night Heron had a brand-new ICOM M802 marine SSB transceiver, which came preprogrammed with a lot of useful frequencies including all the required frequencies (which are standard marine-band radio channels). Unfortunately, we discovered along the way that our radio put out a very weak signal, so our ability to communicate via SSB over long distances was severely impaired. However, Jeff also had an Iridium satphone on board that he had rented for a month, so our long-distance communication was assured, though at a price.
- VHF radio - Night Heron had a brand-new Furuno FM-3000 VHF, which worked fine.
- Handheld VHF - We also had a handheld VHF.
- Tools and materials for emergency repairs (hull, ports, rigging, and sails) - We were pretty well equipped. We had a quantity of plywood and lumber which normally was part of the berth framing, but it could most assuredly be used for emergency repairs of the hull and ports. We had lots of extra running rigging in lockers plus spare halliards already rigged; Jeff also had a big set of bolt cutters to cut away standing rigging if necessary. We had a bunch of sail repair tape and some tools to do hand stitching, although major sail repairs would have to wait until we reached port (as we would discover).
- Ship's bell, for vessels over 45' - We had a bell, although it was mounted below in the saloon near the companionway.
- Adjusted main steering compass with deviation table - Frankly, I thought this requirement was a little excessive. I looked up on the internet how to adjust a compass and prepare a deviation table, and the procedure is very complicated and time-consuming. It would be expensive to hire a specialist, if you could even find someone competent enough to do it, and if you tried to do it yourself, I think you'd be just as likely to screw up the compass adjustment as to actually improve it. We fudged this, but then again, we had a backup compass and four GPS units, three of which were handheld battery-powered units. Any of the GPS units could provide a very accurate readout of true or magnetic course. And as it turned out, most of the time our compass, autopilot, and GPS agreed reasonably well.
- Backup compass - Night Heron had a second compass mounted below, where the old inside steering station had been (which Jeff removed).
- Cockpit companionway extending below deck level must be capable of being blocked off to main deck level with hatch boards or doors secured - Night Heron had hatchboards for this purpose, and although they didn't have a built-in method of securing them, such a method could be rigged up easily enough if required.
- Two manual bilge pumps, one operable from the cockpit with all hatches and cockpit seats secured and handle with lanyard secured nearby - Night Heron had a really nice Edson manual bilge pump, which I rebuilt as part of the work that I did. However I never tested it, because the suction hose had been disconnected to move it out of the way of the engine work that was in progress. By the time we left, the suction hose had been reconnected, but the engine was now in the way of rigging up a test, and we just plain ran out of time. We also didn't bother lashing the handle to the pump, since it would have been constantly underfoot in the cockpit. The handle was stored in a small locker built into a companionway step. The second manual bilge pump was a simple plastic hand pump, which wouldn't be very convenient to use, but it would work. We also had a portable electric liquid transfer pump that we did actually use to help pump out the bilge, because the pickup hose could get the bilge drier that the main electric bilge pump. The portable pump had battery clips and we had a special wire already connected to the electrical panel for the hookup.
- Adequate lifelines and pulpits - Night Heron had double lifelines and the top member was a solid teak rail that went all around the boat. The boat also had mast pulpits, though there was normally no need to go to the mast.
- Man overboard pole with horseshoe life ring, light, and drogue - Night Heron had a MOB pole mounted on the backstay, and Jeff bought an extra kit that I think had the remaining items, but I don't think we mounted the extra items on the pole. Perhaps we did, I don't remember.
- Additional throwable device - Jeff bought and installed a rather elaborate device called a rescue ring. It's similar to a Lifesling, but firm and round and big enough to fit in, plus when you throw it to somebody, instead of the line paying out of a storage bag, the line unspools from a reel.
- Heaving line - We had the type of heaving line that consisted of a light line properly stowed in a throwable bag.
- Navigational lights meeting international regulations - We had regular running lights plus a masthead tricolor with an emergency strobe. We always used our lights at night, I think it's too risky otherwise. Surprisingly, we did see several ships, including some at night, and even one that passed closely enough that CiCi talked to them on the VHF to coordinate the passing.
- Backup navigational lights, dinghy lights to use if electrical system fails - Jeff purchased a simple battery-powered set of lights which is just what the requirements were talking about.
- Charts, tables, publications, and instruments necessary for offshore navigation - Night Heron had two big chartplotters with a full set of electronic charts, four GPS units (three of which were handheld battery-powered units), plus backup paper charts. We had paper charts of the lower Chesapeake Bay area including about a hundred miles offshore, and we had detailed paper charts of the Virgin Islands. To cover the ocean area in-between, we had a paper DMA 108 ocean chart, which is a very nice chart for this kind of trip. We had a Reed's Almanac for the Caribbean, which had chartlets and approach information for all the Caribbean islands plus Bermuda. I'm not sure if we had a Reed's Almanac for the East Coast, which would have been good for chartlets and approach information for East Coast ports if we had to bail out, but we did have GPS waypoints written down for the sea buoys for all the major bailout ports that we could use. We had a couple of cruising guides for the Virgin Islands for "local knowledge" of the area. We also had a really neat pocket reference book that had all kinds of useful boating and nautical information, though it might never get used in real life. I also had on CD-ROM a copy of the American Practical Navigator and the International Navigation Rules. We had a full set of charting instruments.
- Fire extinguishers, at least two, three required for vessels over 45', USCG approved - Night Heron had loads of fire extinguishers, so we handily met this requirement. The boat had a scary electrical fire as Jeff was bringing it down from Rhode Island, so this is one area where he wasn't going to skimp. The cause of the fire was repaired as part of the refitting process, and a big system fuse was installed in the main circuit to hopefully avoid this kind of electrical fire in the future.
- Foghorn with canisters - We had the usual freon horn with a few canisters.
- Flashlights, two minimum, with spare batteries and bulbs, one must be watertight, one usable for signaling - We had a bunch of flashlights, several of which were watertight, and they all could be used for signaling one way or another. We had a whole bunch of spare batteries, but no spare bulbs. I brought with me two flashlights and one personal headlamp, and they were all watertight. I really like using a headlamp at night so you can have both hands free (or at least one hand free if the other hand is hanging on). Unfortunately, that is one spare bulb that I should have brought, because my headlamp bulb burned out during the voyage and I didn't have a spare. I had even thought about the spare bulb when packing but I was too lazy to dig it out. With the headlamp out of action I had to use a flashlight, which was much less convenient.
- Depth sounder or lead line - Night Heron had a properly working depth sounder, and we could have made a lead line if necessary.
- Wood plugs attached to each through-hull fitting or in critical areas - We had a wood plug secured to each through-hull fitting, as required, plus a bag of spares.
- Abandon ship bag, with suggested items (water and food, reading glasses, drugs, ships papers, personal identification, credit card, cash, handheld mirror, signal mirror, GPS, EPIRB) - Jeff bought an abandon ship bag which we kept readily at-hand but we didn't fill it up with things. If we had to abandon ship, it would have taken us a few minutes to grab stuff, which kind of defeats the purpose of having an abandon ship bag.
- Heavy equipment secured against capsize (including batteries, anchors, stoves, icebox lids, toolboxes, etc.) - Some of our heavy items were well secured, some weren't. For example, there were several big removable floor panels that weren't secured, so if we were knocked down or (heaven forbid) capsized, they would have gone flying around and perhaps broken the large windows in the saloon. This is something we possibly could have done better if we had enough preparation time, which we didn't. I have read stories of boats at sea suffering knockdowns, where properly secured floor panels helped tremendously or where unsecured panels caused serious problems. One such story (of properly secured panels) was about a boat in a previous Caribbean 1500 that suffered a knockdown, so those things can happen. That said, on my own boat, none of the floor panels are secured.
- Anchors, two, with suitable rode and chain - We had the required number of anchors, but unfortunately, during a period of rough weather the main anchor got loose and started banging against the hull. Because of its ungainly design, Jeff wound up disliking the main anchor so much that during the trip, he unshackled it from the chain and threw it overboard. It was replaced with the CQR backup anchor.
- Storm shutters/covers prepared for any large window or porthole - Night Heron had a number of large windows around the saloon, all of which were glass and vulnerable to damage. We didn't have storm shutters prepared, which initially caused me some concern. However, Jeff convinced me that we really did have shutters, in the form of the plywood panels that supported the mattresses in the forward and aft cabins. Plus we had a whole bunch of big self-tapping screws and a couple of powerful battery-powered drills. Jeff assured me that he wouldn't hesitate to screw the plywood right into the fiberglass, if the need arose, so I considered this requirement to be met in spirit if not in exact detail.
- Radar reflector, mounted - The boat already had a radar reflector permanently mounted on the mast.
- Jacklines, one on each side of the main deck - Jeff bought a set of jacklines which we installed and used. The rules of the boat were that anyone leaving the cockpit had to first clip-in to the jackline. Furthermore, a second person had to be in the cockpit to watch the person who was clipped-in, to make sure they didn't have any problems. Everyone also had to wear a PFD while above deck.
- Two stout buckets with lanyards - Night Heron used to have two really good buckets, but Jeff gave them away before we left. That left us with two mediocre buckets, one of which was ripped from its handle and washed overboard during the voyage.
- Written emergency procedures, describe and explain to each crew member - Several written emergency procedures were required, which I list below. I came up with a set of procedures and emailed them to Jeff, who printed them out and put them on the boat. I think everybody knew where they were, but we never went over them before leaving. This is one of the things where we just ran out of time, and it could have resulted in some unnecessary confusion in an actual emergency. Of course real emergencies tend to be confusing anyway, so it's hard to say how much a review of written procedures would have helped. As it turned out, we did have a high-water alarm go off due to a potential flooding emergency, and nobody went running for the written procedures. Instead, everybody more-or-less calmly considered the situation and came up with a reasonable plan to cope with the problem. In the end we were successful (the electric bilge pumps had become clogged). I have a separate page with all of our emergency procedures; all of the following links go to the same page.
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