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What does our Safety Officer do?

Managing Safety Into Fun Afloat

"Tim, much younger showing off orange PVC"

Tim is our Safety Officer for the 2018 season. He took the role on eighteen months ago because he is passionate about two things afloat. One is fun, the other is safety. He's sailed since he was 13, messed about in rowing boats before that, and has paddled kayaks on white water. He's sailed scary boats, sailed with scary skippers, and taught sailing since 1970 under the old National Schools Sailing Scheme, a scheme administered by the RYA, first as an instructor, then senior instructor for dinghies and keelboats. And it is that last area that gave him an understanding of safety afloat.

In 1970, at Surbiton, on the river Thames, he qualified as a sailing instructor, just after his 18th birthday. The chap in charge of the school, a Sea Cadet Training Ship, TS Neptune, really a stone frigate, made a great impression on him. He was a retired Grey Funnel Line chap, T Ian G Southcott, 'Tigs'. On his first day Tigs told Tim, “When you go afloat check everything for safety. Check the boat, the equipment, and the fit of your and your pupils' personal buoyancy. Keep a good lookout. Above all, if the worst should happen, think:

What will you tell the coroner?”

All his sailing life Tim has gone afloat thinking “What will I tell the coroner?”

And that is why he volunteered to take on the role of Safety Officer. It's also why he limited his tenure to two years. Safety needs fresh eyes. Old eyes miss things. And they get missed because they have always worked, or have always been done that way, or because of manifold reasons that do not hold water when the coroner says, “Tell me, did you observe [some important rule or other]?” and the answer is “We didn't even know that rule existed.” And this is also the reason why the role fell vacant, because his predecessor knew that new eyes were required.

It's why all Dart Sailability roles change to new people.

Everyone manages safety into fun afloat, no exceptions. All the management team have different roles in doing so. All our volunteers have a duty to do so. The Safety Officer has the job of formalising it.

Sounds dull?

Seriously, dull it isn't.

Ok, there are some process parts. Here's an incomplete list of the tasks your Safety Officer does each winter to make sue we, you, can go afloat in a pleasantly risky sport, knowing that the safety has been managed, is being,managed into the fun afloat:

  • Every inflatable lifejacket must be serviced and certified by a competent external organisation

  • The Masthead Flotation Device for Equalizer must be serviced and certified by a competent external organisation

  • The buoyancy aids must be tested according to a formal testing scheme, but simply need a competent person, the Safety Officer to test them

  • Every hoist, every sling, must be inspected and certified by a competent external organisation

  • All the fire extinguishers must be serviced and certified by a competent external organisation

  • All our plug in electrical equipment must be certified by a competent external organisation

  • All the boxes of safety equipment have to be checked, and replenished where needed

Every year we insist that the Operating Procedures, HOPS, are read by our members. While these are maintained by the team of Principal and Deputy Principal, the Safety Officer has a major input into these procedures.

It's detailed work, sometimes frustrating, but never boring.

During the sailing season The Safety Officer works with the Chief Instructors and Officers of the Day to ensure that as many people as possible perform the Man Overboard Recovery procedures detailed in HOPs. Practice means that any real incident is handled as a matter of trained routine; training kicks in and the job is done easily.

Tim enjoys the fun of volunteering as much as anyone, and keeps an eye open for things that could be done better. Simple things like keeping radio calls brief and businesslike, checking the need for our volunteers to practice things, to do them differently. While Tim is both a Powerboat and Keelboat Instructor that isn't a requirement for the role. He works with the Chief Instructors and the Principal to help us all gain extra skills.

One key thing we expect of our Safety Officer is the rigour to challenge old decisions made in different times in order to ensure they remain valid currently. Most of those old decisions are likely to be excellent still and are to be ratified. Some are set aside and new decisions made. But not challenging the status quo risks complacency, and we are back to “What will I tell the coroner?”

The best part is that by getting it right, genuine accidents apart, the coroner will not be required.

It's mutual. No-one starts as a Safety Officer knowing it all. That's why we hand the role over at the end of the season, and have started introducing the next role holder to the role gently. Tim's successor will introduce themselves to you in due course, after the end of September, but they are learning about the role now and will do that quietly all season. Tim learnt a lot from his predecessor, and built on their work. He anticipates that his successor will strengthen Dart Sailability's good processes even further. And so our skills grow.

As Tim will tell you,

“I have never gone afloat without learning something. I learn the most from watching others, and then trying to do the best of what they do better than they just did it.”

When he took the role on first he was worried that he would be seen as 'the bloke who always said no', and he's made sure that any process that is required for safety manages that safety into our fun afloat.

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