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Ocean sailor Feature

Designing for Emergencies

Liferafts, grab bags, bolt cutters and the emergency steering system

By Filip Sochaj – Kraken Yachts Head of Design

You may never need this kit, but if you do, you’ll need it pronto!

Filip Sochaj explains the Kraken attitude towards vital emergency equipment storage.

As we went to press six sailors in the 2020 Vendee Globe solo-round-the-world race have been forced to abandon the contest. The Vendee has always pushed sailors and their boats to the limit, but after only a third of the race, almost 20% of the fleet are out. From hitting debris, to dismasting and even a sinking, the carnage has been full-on.

While the Vendee Globe is an extreme event, such eventualities may be faced by any ocean-going yacht. In the end, they are sailing the same seas as you and I.

In last month’s Ocean Sailor, following an attack from an orca whale, we read about how one yacht’s crew had to rely on an emergency tiller deployed in the aft cabin with another member of the crew shouting steering instructions to the helmsman who had no forward vision at all!

What you need

It’s as important to be able to get to it, as it is to have it. Ease of access to this equipment is often the make or break in an emergency situation. 


Emergency tiller, bolt cutters and grab bag

The steering system is the only mechanical system onboard which can cause the loss of the yacht with potentially fatal results if it fails. Sails are the backup if the engine fails. At least two bilge pumps are installed in each area, as well as a manual pump, or there’s always a bucket, but steering is vital;  most commercial vessels are required to have a whole secondary backup system for that reason, so the emergency steering system has to work properly, and you have to be able to install it quickly on a yacht.

It is, therefore, surprising to me how often I’ve seen the emergency tiller buried at the bottom of the lazarette, under all the gear piled in there, under saloon seats again buried at the bottom, or worse, simply missing altogether.

We understand it can be difficult to stow a three-metre long stainless tube, albeit in sections, along with the bolt cutters and grab bag, to hand, so we set ourselves to solve this problem for our owners. If it is vital emergency gear, it’s also vital to be able to get at it quickly when it’s needed, so, rather than lecture and warn clients of the danger of letting this happen with a note in the owner’s manual, we’ve designed and built-in dedicated stowage for these items in the transom locker area.


The liferaft

The liferaft location requires different considerations.

‘We have seen, and been told, of some terrible designs which place the liferaft in lockers that are impossible to open on your own, let alone access and deploy.  We do not agree with the method of storing the liferaft in a cradle on the outside of the transom pushpit because this may release the liferaft into the sea underneath the davits and the dingy they hold. Damage and entanglement with the davits and the dingy are very likely, so we think it’s important to be able to carry the liferaft to wherever is most convenient, if necessary, given the prevailing circumstances. This includes the wind and wave direction and how the crew can embark the liferaft most easily’. 

A secondary consideration is the desire to integrate the liferafts storage into the look and style of the yacht, if possible, although safety is the primary concern above all else.


Dedicated Aft Lazarette Lockers

With all the above in mind, we designed in a solution in the aft lazarette and transom area that combines safety, convenience and style.

The aft lazarette spans the whole width of the yacht, so we do not have to sacrifice the actual storage access space to incorporate the safety gear hatches. There are two hatches that lead into the aft lazarette and each one is 100x 59cmm, which is enough space to get you and any gear into the lazarette. 

On either side of the lazarette hatches are now dedicated safety equipment hatches and lockers. The starboard one houses the liferaft and the port one carries the grab bag, bolt cutters and the emergency tiller. Nothing else will be stowed in these lockers.

The reasoning for locating this equipment at the transom is as follows:

  1. The transom to interior bulkhead is watertight so will stay buoyant until the last.
  2. We can accommodate all this vital emergency here, in two dedicated lockers so it’s all in one location.
  3. Close proximity to the emergency tiller socket where the emergency tiller will be deployed
  4. With the liferaft stowed in a dedicated locker it can be the valise type. This weighs a lot less than the hard case type and reduces its size, making it a lot more manageable

It is desirable for most of the crew to stay in the safety of the protected cockpit until the liferaft is fully deployed. With this system the liferaft can be launched from the leeward side of the yacht if required, the crew can then board the liferaft at the nearby stanchion gate, so no one has to climb over lifelines to get in it. 

In this year’s Vendee Globe, Kevin’s Escoffier’s boat broke in half leaving him just a few seconds to react before she started to sink. If the unthinkable happens it’s best that someone has thought through the process you might need to carry out !

Remember the old saying, which was set in stone after the Fastnet Storm of 1979  during which many crews abandoned their yacht while they were still afloat. Many of those abandoned yachts survived, but terribly many yachtsmen lost their lives in the liferaft.

You should only ever step up into a liferaft!”

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