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Home / Member Info / Guide to Duties / Safety Boat Handbook

Safety Boat Handbook


Safety Boat Handbook


The aim of this handbook is to provide an aide memoire for experienced RIB Helms, an update on equipment and procedure changes and a useful guide for the less experienced.

The first part of the document deals with equipment and general issues to do with boat usage and operation.

It includes Health and Safety issues and equipment damage risks and precautionary measures to prevent an occurrence.

In future, more serious issues that arise will also be publicised as safety boat helm updates and disseminated by email.

The second part deals with operational procedures specific to RIB Helms/Crew.


Essential Consideration for RIB Helms and Crew

To helm a Club RIB, helms must be:

o competent to a level at least equivalent to RYA PB2 or be under direct instruction of a qualified RYA PBI.

o registered as an approved helm by the Club.

o be a Club member. Non-members invalidate the club insurance.

RIB Crews must be:

oClub Members. Non-members invalidate the club insurance

oPhysically capable of performing the duty

They should be familiar with the contents of this handbook.

They should be familiar with the Standard Operational Procedures, SOPs which apply to their operation, such as Refuelling and Launching and comply with those procedures.

All helms are reminded that it is their responsibility to check their boats against the Safety Boat Checklist to ensure that they are fully prepared and ready for service before launching and when taking over from another helm.

They should return their boats in this condition on completion of the duty and report any faults as necessary to the OOD and record in the Fault Reporting Register.

Radio communication should be established with the OOD before launching.

During Covid restrictions, a Safety boat may be operated by a current RYA Dinghy / Powerboat Instructor without the need of a crew. Under normal circumstances a Safety boast must have both a registered help and crew.

RIB Helms work under the direction of the OOD, who should be kept informed about what you are doing during racing events.

Since large race marks have the potential to be blown out of RIBs at high speed, they should be tied down before leaving the jetty/slipway.

Be aware of local hazards such as the reservoir wall.

The tendency for people in the water to use the RIB steering wheel to assist themselves into the boat should be resisted, as it can damage the steering mechanism and result in the hydraulic oil leaking and is an unsafe practice.

Before engaging reverse gear, ensure that there is plenty of time for the revs to drop.

Ensure that the engine is raised when entering shallow water.

Registered Power Boat Instructors are encouraged to allow crew to drive for some of a duty, if and when it is appropriate. This is one of the few feasible methods of enabling someone to gain the experience on the path to becoming a skilled RIB Helm.

Please note that any Health and Safety incidents should be reported to the OOD who will inform the Club Health and Safety Coordinator by way of an Incident Report Form.


General Considerations for Safety Boat Operation

This section lists general considerations for RIB Helms/Crew before outlining the main specific problems that may be encountered on a duty and possible solutions.

No solutions are definitive as situations vary according to the boats concerned and the conditions prevailing.

It is the responsibility of RIB Helm to decide which method is most likely to be successful.

Helms must at all times maintain clear communication with their crew.

Helms and crews should also continually assess the potential risks of all situations, taking account of weather, sea state, lea shore and other hazards. Larger waves occur infrequently, but the margin of safety must take account of these.

They must inform the OOD, if they consider that conditions are beyond their capabilities.

In all situations helms should give safety priority in the following order:

o The personal safety of themselves and their RIB crew

o The safety of other boat crews

o The rescue or prevention of damage to vessels or equipment.

To be effective during rescues, RIB Helms will be required to exercise their judgement and skills without necessarily having to refer to the OOD. However, the OOD may well require that a particular rescue is aborted in response to a more serious situation.

The control of specific rescues is in the hands of the RIB Helm.

In a rescue situation, sailors must follow the safety boat helm's instructions if they are to retain the support of the safety boat.

  • Occasionally dinghy helms in difficulty refuse to obey the instructions of the RIB helm. This often involves the continuation of a course of action which has proved unsuccessful and which has tied up the safety boat for some time, thereby compromising the cover of the rest of the fleet. Where this happens, it needs to be made very clear to the casualty that his action is compromising the race and the safety of other competitors. The situation also needs to be communicated to the OOD.

If casualties fail to comply with instructions, the RIB Helm may leave the rescue after a clear warning.

However, be aware that exhaustion and cold can affect a person's ability to make sensible decisions.

If the safety boat helm assesses a rescue situation as potentially hazardous to themselves and crew, they must instruct the sailors to abandon their dinghy and to enter the RIB.

Should the sailors fail to comply, the safety boat should leave the rescue and stand-off at a safe distance.

Rescues in Shallow Water

Using a RIB to rescue boats from lea shores should be undertaken with great care using the floated line method outlined in the RYA Safety Boat Handbook.

All Club RIBs are equipped with throwing lines which may assist the recovery of individuals in the water and possibly in boats.

Approaching, Standing Off, and Coming Alongside a Capsized Dinghy

Be aware of objects and people in the water.

Count heads as you approach in case there is a possible entrapment.

Have default plan ready in the event of the situation changing.

Position strategically up wind, aft of the dinghy, close enough for clear communication and in a position from which it is reasonably easy to manoeuvre without delay in forward gear alone alongside the dinghy should this be required.

There should be no chance of drifting or being swept by waves into contact with casualties.

Watch personnel and be prepared to kill the engine should anyone drop into the water close to the propeller and aft of the console.

Communicate with all regarding engine state (e.g. engine in neutral, engine off, moving forward).

Keep the OOD informed of your situation and function.

To come alongside, approach from the windward side.

Manoeuvre precisely and efficiently taking account of the sea state, wind and other conditions prevailing.

Ensure that there are no ropes or other objects which may wrap around the prop.

In windy conditions, when the dinghy is securely alongside, motor slowly to windward to keep both boats head to wind or with the RIB slightly to windward of the dinghy. This should keep the dinghy's boom out of the way and more comfortable for the dinghy crew.

In extremely windy conditions the windage on the sail may mean that the dinghy must be shifted further forward of the RIB, to enable the RIB to steer to windward. This is the same principle as positioning the RIB in a side tow well aft of the transom of the towed vessel.

Retrieving People from Water Approach from downwind.

Communicate with the casualty before approaching with the engine in neutral if possible.

Stop at the casualty without using reverse.

Crew at bow should call contact.

The engine is cut unless it is deemed unsafe to do so (e.g. close to a point of danger; risk of engine not starting).

Methods of Assisting Casualties into RIB

Method 1: The casualty faces forward and the helm and crew each take hold of a hand and the top of an arm and pull. See picture below.

Generally, this is best done on a count of three with a dunk first then pull.

Method 2: The casualty can face away from the side tube; trials have shown that this is the easiest method. See below.

However, care needs to be taken to avoid spinal problems.

Forward Facing Method. Backward Facing Method.

Method 3: Casualties face the RIB with an arm over the tube. See picture below.

They are then instructed to raise their knee.

The crew reaches down and lift it up to the tube.

Having hooked their leg over the tube and with the assistance of the crew they can slide/roll over the top.

A side tube can be deflated in extreme conditions.

Method 4: A person can enter from the transom by using the anti-cavitation plate as a step.

The hydraulic lift can also be used to raise them higher.

However, caution is needed in big seas, as there is a risk of injury and of bending the hydraulic steering gear.

Method 5: Use the painter or other rope firmly attached at one end to the boat.

Form a loop over the side of the boat to form a foot hold for the casualty and secure the other end of the rope to the boat.

The casualty can then put their foot into the loop and use it to step up into the boat.

This works well for raising the casualty, but it is essential to have either something in the boat for them to grab (e.g. a short length of line secured to the inside of the boat) or a crew member to secure them and pull them into the boat.

It is best to attempt this towards the back end of the boat where the tubes are lower.

Methods of Assisting a 90 Degree Capsize

Righting dinghies involves a series of ranked preferred options.

In the first instance the dinghy crew will usually right the dinghy themselves with the RIB standing off to provide reassurance and advice.

If this does not work, the RIB crew may be swapped with the dinghy crew, or direct assistance may be rendered by the RIB helm and crew (as described below).

Where a boat cannot be sailed again, because of damage, the sails should be lowered in the water, the boat righted and then towed back or anchored.

Each safety boat should have a small grapnel anchor, chain, line and float in order to anchor dinghies.

If a boat is abandoned until later, a small mark should be secured to it to signify that it has been attended to and nobody is trapped or missing.

A dinghy can be prevented from inverting during lowering of the sails, by either keeping a person on the centreboard, holding the centreboard on top of the tubes or supporting the mast.

Righting the boat without sails is generally easier using the conventional method or one of the following.

When evaluating a capsize situation, make a judgement about the fitness of the crew, who can rapidly become exhausted and ineffective.

Getting the crew out of the water into the RIB takes the heat out of the situation and gives a chance to think about what to do for the best. Before attempting to right the dinghy, check that the main sheet is not cleated and the kicker is not tight.

Righting Techniques

Centreboard Method 1: The RIB approaches the dinghy so that the crew can grab the bow or forestay.

In rough conditions, care needs to be taken when near the centreboard to avoid it damaging the RIB tubes or people.

A line may be used by the RIB crew to attach the RIB to the forestay of the dinghy, to give space to keep the bow of the dinghy to windward. See Holding Dinghy to Windward below.

A crew member then stands on the centreboard to raise the dinghy as usual.

The RIB must keep clear of the centreboard and sail as the weight on the centreboard rights the dinghy.

Keeping the dinghy head to wind will counteract the windage on the sails.

Centreboard Method 2: An alternative to putting a crew member on the centreboard, is for the RIB to come alongside the upturned centreboard and to grab hold of the gunnel.

One or more crew members can then use one of their feet to apply a righting force to the end of the centreboard while keeping their other foot in the RIB.

Mast Lift Method: Approach the mast or forestay and, with the dinghy crew on the centreboard, lift the mast by hand or with a boat hook.

Lifting at the top of the forestay is less likely to cause damage but less force is needed at the top of the mast.

Care should be taken in a rough sea to prevent the RIB being washed over the dinghy's sails/rig and causing damage.

If the bow of the dinghy is not to windward, the RIB crew should hold the mast while the RIB is motored slowly into the wind.

In some circumstances it may be necessary to move the dinghy through three quarters of a circle to achieve this.

With the dinghy crew on the centreboard and the boat to windward, allowing the wind to get under the sail as it lifts can help to right the boat.

If there is a question about the seaworthiness of the boat before being righted, an option is to lower the sails before the boat is lifted.

In this situation the RIB crew at the mast tip or forestay should lift the sails out of the water slightly and work their way towards the bow of the boat righting it as they do so.

If the RIB helm motors slowly in reverse to windward, the wind on the sails will cause the dinghy to lie downwind as it comes upright, while it is steadied by the RIB crew.

Alternative Forestay Method: A variation on this is to motor to the bow of the dinghy and for the crew to work their way up the forestay, lifting as they go until there is sufficient turning force to make the sail clear the water. See pictures below.

The advantage of this is that it is possible to keep RIB and dinghy less subject to relative wave motion by holding and fendering between the boats.

Holding Dinghies to Windward: Capsized performance boats with light hulls will turn quickly to float with their hulls downwind and righting them often results in the sail flipping over again as it comes up to windward.

This can be prevented by pulling the bow of the dinghy into the wind. To do this, take a long length of rope from the RIB through the inside of the forestay and back to the RIB. Both ends are then held together by the RIB crew.

The RIB then motors slowly astern in the windward direction to hold the bow into the wind.

The dinghy crew then right the boat while it is being held head to wind.

One end of the rope is then released by the RIB crew and the rope retrieved.

In extreme conditions there is a risk of wave pushing the RIB towards the dinghy, this may make keeping the rope under a steady tension more difficult. The weight of the RIB crew on the bow tends to lift the RIB's transom, giving less grip.

Therefore, if possible, watch the sea approaching aft and be prepared to apply extra reverse throttle as large waves approach.

Leaving the Rescue: Once a dinghy has been righted, the safety boat should stay on the scene until all is well with the dinghy and crew.


General Information: The RYA has been monitoring incidents of entrapment.

A few occur each year and there have been a small number of fatalities.

The incidents cover a range of different boats, although it is probably fair to say that trapeze harnesses getting caught is the most common single cause.

Other boats involved in entrapment situations have included inverted day boats and catamarans.

An additional hazard is the lack of an air pocket under more modern inverted dinghies. Since privately owned boats may be more prone to this problem, all safety boat helms should be aware of the RYA recommendations.

Procedure: This is taken from the RYA Safety Boat Handbook.

From the RYA's work in studying entrapment situations, these are often due to trapeze hooks becoming caught in the rigging. The RYA advice is that attention should be paid to righting the boat rather than entering the water to release the person. Based on past situations, the RYA judge that the former is more likely to be quickly and successfully completed than the latter.

Specific Instructions: On approaching a suspected entrapment, the RIB crew should get onto the inverted hull and use the standard method to right the dinghy.

This is the only rescue situation where a single person in the RIB is permissible.

For a two-hander dinghy, the non-trapped crew should also mount the inverted hull and assist.

The RIB should go to the side of the boat being raised and attempt to lift the bow and view the entrapped person.

If possible, the RIB helm should also help to lift the bow and view the trapped person.

Many modern boats with under floor buoyancy invert with very little air space underneath. Since the air pocket inside is reduced, when a person gets on the inverted hull, the situation can be helped by applying the weight of the crew as far aft as possible.

Assisting a Full Inversion Capsize

Centreboard Righting from the RIB: Although there are a number of techniques of righting an inverted dinghy, this is the easiest, quickest, kindest to the dinghy and has been shown to work when others have not.

Before attempting this, you need to decide on which side of the inverted hull to place the RIB.

In light winds it will probably not be important, but in strong winds and big seas there is an advantage to come alongside the downwind side, because the dinghy and RIB will be blown downwind while the sails will be held to windward by the water and boats motion, thereby helping the righting process.

Motor alongside the appropriate side taking care not to get the prop caught on any rigging.

A rope could be passed around the forestay of the dinghy and back to the RIB where it should be fixed/held.

Two people should stand with one foot each in the RIB and the other on the dinghy and apply downward force on the gunnel at the same time as they pull the centreboard towards them. See below.

This manoeuvre can be awkward as you are not only trying to right the boat but you are also holding it close to the RIB. The process can be made easier if a rope is passed over the inverted hull and attached by a carbine hook to the far shroud. Both crew members then apply force to the gunnel with their feet, while one of them pulls the rope and the other the centreboard. See below.

When the mast becomes horizontal, the centreboard will be on top of the RIB tubes.

At this point, motor the RIB forward to position the bow head to wind before completing the righting process.

This is done by pushing the centreboard away from the RIB until the tip clears the tubes and can be pushed down the side of the RIB.

It may be advantageous at this stage to push the centreboard in slightly so that both boats are kept closer together but be aware that some dinghies have centreboards that foul the boom when raised.

A person can then be placed on the centreboard to right the dinghy normally while a paddle can be used to push the two boats apart.

The advantage of this is that there is reduced risk of damage to the tubes, but there is a greater risk of the boat capsizing again, since the RIB is slightly further away.

Alternatively, both people can continue to apply force to the end of the centreboard using their feet. This method becomes much easier if a rope has previously been passed around the far shroud and back to the RIB or ideally a carbine hook and rope attached to the shroud as previously described. This enables the dinghy to be held firmly whilst providing extra turning moment and stopping the dinghy from moving away as the downward force on the centreboard is applied.

One cannot be dogmatic, but this method has been tested many times now and found to be boat friendly and effective when other methods have failed or have damaged the boat.

Lost Centreboard/Daggerboard: During an inversion capsize it is common for the centreboard to disappear down the slot. In many cases the crew will swim under and lift or reinsert the centreboard. If there is nobody willing to undertake this the following applies.

To deal with this, each RIB tool box should contain a length of plastic baler tape, which can in some circumstances be fed in a loop down the slot and along the centreboard and then pulled to extract the centreboard.

If a dagger-board comes out of its slot and is to hand, it can be fed in from the outside. If not, some light dinghies may be righted using a paddle in the slot.

Should the centreboard/dagger-board be lost, dinghies can be righted with the crew's feet on the gunnel as usual and using a rope attached to the far shroud and run over the inverted hull and pulled as described earlier.

RIB Pull Method: This is an alternative method, but much more difficult than the first method above. See photos below.

A line is secured across the inverted hull, behind the centreboard and attached to the lower part of the shroud furthest from the RIB as in the pictures below.

The RIB then pulls the line with the crew on the gunnels, holding the centreboard, until the dinghy rolls up to be upright.

However, this is not easy, because the RIB's position needs to be controlled with precision to avoid the rope slipping off the boat. As the rope is pulled, the dinghy tends to move forward or back and turns, increasing the likelihood of the rope slipping.

It requires considerable skill in reversing the RIB appropriately in the correct direction, while also requiring considerable power from the RIB.

It is essential to have someone on the dinghy to sink the nearest gunnel of the inverted hull and to hold the boat at the 90 degree point to prevent it inverting again.

The rope needs to be attached to the RIB bow ring to prevent damage to the tubes and the force needed puts considerable strain on the shroud plates, which could be easily damaged in some boats.

Given the strain involved, there is a danger that the rope might break and injure the crew on the dinghy.

RIB Push Method: This method is one of last resort, as there is a risk of causing damage.

The bow of the RIB is tied to the bow of the dinghy, which is then pushed by the RIB positioned at 90 degrees to the dinghy.

This spins the dinghy around causing the sails to lift to the 90 degree position, from where it may then be possible to lift the forestay to prevent further inversion.

Spinnaker Lift: This is another method of last resort.

The RIB should be positioned at the bow of the dinghy and the crew pulls either the spinnaker or the spinnaker halyard, depending on whether the spinnaker was flying or not.

The RIB is then moved away from the dinghy so that it lies at 90 degrees to the dinghy and the crew in effect pulls the top of the mast towards him.

It may take a lot of force and it might be necessary to cut the tack rope to the spinnaker to allow a distant enough pull.

Whatever methods is used, some boats are very stubborn about coming away from the inversion position, often because a suction develops with the water. In the case of Wayfarers, for example, it helps to break the suction by applying one's weight to one of the rear quarters.

Towing techniques

Line Tows: This is the quickest and easiest method of towing a dinghy, but they provide no extra stability to a swamped dinghy.

The tow line should be attached to the rear frame of the RIB using a bridle and secured to the dinghy with one turn around the mast and held by the crew.

The centreboard should be three quarters up, with the crew/helm aft steering slightly to the side of the RIB.

When the load is reasonably light and there is plenty of sea room the tow line can be connected to one side of the RIB. Suitable single attachment points are the eye bolts or bottom of hoop. However, this can limit the ability to turn in one direction and for heavier loads central connection to a bridle is preferable.

Beginners frequently find making upwind progress hard and a line tow up wind with sails up is easy and quick.

Dinghies towed downwind in large waves can surf past the RIB. It may be necessary to control the dinghy's speed by the helm trailing a leg in the water or tying a bucket or something to provide drag on the transom.

This method should not be used for towing a boat downwind with the sails up.

Towing several boats can be done in a line, with each helm securing a rope from the boat in front, taking a loop around the mast and holding it, as described above.

Alternatively, all the dinghies can be tied to a single long rope in a herringbone fashion as portrayed below.

If travelling any distance, the sails should be furled or in light winds the clew released.

Side Tows: Another method of towing is to attach the dinghy to the side of the RIB as in the diagram below.

This requires the bows and the sterns to roped together and two springs to keep the boats in position.

The dinghy bow should be angled in towards the RIB bow.

Side tows provide considerably more stability especially for a swamped dinghy, but the arrangement of four ropes takes time, and it can also be a very wet ride during which it is possible to swamp the RIB.

Manoeuvring using a side tow is very precise, but the dinghy needs to be well forward of the aft of the RIB. The wider the boat the more aft the RIB should be, probably more than in the diagram to the right.

Side tows of racked boats can be achieved with a bow line and sitting on the racks, although care should be taken to ensure no sharp screws protrude from beneath the racks and the tubes are not damaged.

Rear Tows: Towing a dinghy backwards is useful if it has lost its buoyancy.

However, the disadvantages are that: it is only a suitable method if a displacement boat is being used for towing; and it takes considerable time, since a cradle needs to be constructed to lift the aft of the dinghy and arranged so as not to slide off and adequate fendering is essential.


Last updated 10:45 on 9 March 2022

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