Some safety issues to take into consideration with sailing canoes........
Boat Design and Condition:- Fitting a sailing rig to a canoe puts extra demands upon it so everything should be maintained in good condition. The design should have a generous depth (of at least 20cm from gunwale to keel-line) and an evenly curved sheer line (gunwale side-profile). These factors should result in a 'drier' and hopefully safer boat. Some hull models and/or constructions may need stiffening to withstand the levering forces of the mast.
Buoyancy:- should be as much as can be fitted without affecting how the canoe is sailed. It must be sufficient to support the swamped boat, its gear and crew and should also float it high enough to enable bailing from outside the canoe prior to climbing back in. All such buoyancy must be either built-in to the canoe's structure or firmly held in place in the case of foam or airbags.
Rudder/Leeboards:- should be strong, securely attached, easy to use but readily retracted when not needed: eg while paddling.
Sail and Spars:- should be easy to stow in the canoe and to rig whilst on the water. The stowed rig should still allow for paddling and ready access in and out of the boat. It is advisable that spars are buoyant wherever possible with tube-ends being plugged.
Fittings:- should be neat and non-snagging, but more importantly sound and strong enough for the job in hand - to cope with brisker winds and choppy water. Non-corroding materials, screws and bolts etc, although generally more expensive initially, will normally be worth the investment, both in ease of use and lasting indefinitely.
Paddles:- There should be one paddle for each crew member plus a spare in the canoe. They should all be secured in some way so as not to be lost during a capsize but still be easily accessible in a hurry.
Emergencies:- A "survival" bag should be carried (a very large, heavy-gauge polythene bag to form a makeshift shelter to help in the treatment of hypothermia). A "bits and pieces" pack with a simple 1st-Aid Kit, some lengths of cord, shackles, a few tools, sticky tape and so on (to enable some makeshift repairs to be done to both person and boat/rig) will not add much to the burden but may save a lot of hassle should the need arise.
Skills and Abilities:- Trips and venture should be chosen carefully to match the experience and competence of the canoe-sailor. Both sailing and paddling abilities should be considered when making such decisions. For example if a breakage or other problem arises then the crew should be capable of paddling back to safety.
Cruise in Company:- If unsure, the company of those more capable is an obvious and wise precaution. Sailing in the company of other canoes or small boats has a great deal to commend it from the safety angle and usually adds to the enjoyment anyway.
Seasons:- Even for the experienced the colder seasons present extra potential risk when low air and water temperatures have serious consequences in the event of a mishap. These factors become so much more important during such times that many would consider the winter months to be a non-sailing period, for repairs, maintenance and expedition planning while waiting for the better and warmer weather.
Righting and recovery from a capsize:- Should the worst happen there should be a planned and preferably rehearsed self-rescue strategy to carry out. Methods vary according to equipment and personal preference. Some are as simple as bailing out and climbing back aboard while others rely on the use of more specialist devices. Whatever is chosen, the time to find out its effectiveness is in controlled practice sessions and not during an 'epic'!
Wind Strength:- Experience has shown that for most people the highest wind in which canoes can be enjoyably sailed is a Force 4 (described as a "Moderate Breeze" in land-forecasts). The ability to reef is certainly an advantage and would increase the chances of coping with "Moderate to Fresh" conditions. Most would then be heading for home while many probably would not have even set out in the first place! (refer to Wind scale page for more detail)
On-Shore Contact:- it is sensible to leave word with someone responsible about where you are going and how long you will be out so that, if you don't return, action can be taken to ensure your safety.