Safety comes first, client satisfaction comes second and everything else follows
This is the cornerstone upon which we build our operations and procedures.
However, due to the nature of our business (which includes bareboat charter with bookings exclusively through Brokers) this goal can only be achieved, when we have the opportunity to work with similarly minded Broker partners, but mainly when we are selected for our services by similarly minded clients.
A safety plan must safeguard that for each individual trip there will be:
• A yacht in a perfect condition, with all its systems fully functional, providing a safe and comfortable environment for its passengers
• A well trained and properly certified skipper, with adequate experience for the planned trip and the right attitude regarding safety
• A trip plan based on the weather forecast issued on the departure date and the selection of a sailing area that will not excessively challenge the skills of the skipper and the tolerance of the crew.
SeaStar Sailing dares (at the expense of loosing precious bookings for itself) take actions on all three fronts.
It is a lot of hard work, but we happily do it, in order to maximize the safety of each crew having a holiday trip aboard a SeaStar Sailing yacht.
Contrary to common belief, a brand new yacht coming straight from the shipyard, cannot be assumed to be safe.
It takes very thorough procedures to assemble all its systems, test them and verify its seaworthiness for its first trip.
The selection of equipment and extras can play a critical role in the yacht’s ability to provide functionality and safety, when adverse conditions appear.
We provide a few points below that will help explain how we treat yachts in our fleet.
Modern charter yachts utilize submersible bilge pumps, which contain inside their body a humidity sensor that will detect water at the bottom of the yacht and activate the pump to expel it. We add in all our yachts an external bilge pump float switch, which acts as a backup to the internal sensor and also provides an easy test to the skipper who can check the integrity of the system, by just lifting it slightly by hand.
We do not accept water presence inside our boats, which we always investigate to determine its origin.
We install Class A AIS (Automatic Identification System) on almost all of our yachts, to automatically declare their position and their identity as sailing yachts (therefore slow) to the systems of the nearby traffic of large vessels that cannot change course easily, thus contributing to enhanced collision avoidance procedures and additional care for the smaller yacht.
Since MED mooring (anchor and 2 landlines) is the standard mooring practice due to the lack of organized marinas in Greece, a well-thought and well-executed anchoring plan is imperative for the safety of the yacht. A chain with an anchor attached to one of its ends is simply not enough. A complex system of high quality parts is required.
We use almost exclusively original Delta anchors (and not cheap copies) to achieve optimum balance during launch and fast setting to the sea bottom. The anchor selection is always one size heavier than the size that would be considered adequate for the size of the yacht (e.g. 25kg instead of 20kg, etc). We use almost exclusively 10mm (or higher on bigger yachts) ISO standards Lofrans chain (67m -110m long, depending on yacht size), which we attach to the anchor by a highly quality swivel and by a rope (to diffuse chain twist) at the other end, to the boat. A special self-leveling buoy is provided to mark the exact anchor position, at appropriate locations. The chain is marked with colored markings at 10m intervals and a plastic card with the length at various markings, completes the picture.
The anchor windlass is upgraded on almost all yachts, the minute they arrive from the shipyard. So a 700watt is replaced by a 1000watt, a 1000watt by a 1500watt, etc. In this way the windlass capability is never below the anticipated loads, if properly used.Two heavy-duty belts complete the anchoring system, when the yacht landline ropes are not secured by using normal harbor cleats, but some natural elements like a rock or a big tree, instead.
A back-up anchor with 12m chain and 100m ropes is also provided
All of our mono-hull yachts (unless smaller than 38ft) are equipped with bow thrusters to help with maneuvers in harbors.
Most of our yachts are equipped with a thunder avoidance device at the mast top.
We provide Advanced SOLAS (LSA code) lifejackets (solid type) for adults and children, which we recommend in case of emergency. We do not recommend inflatable lifejackets, which we provide, if booked well in advance, free-of-charge, in addition to the solid type ones, for entertainment purposes only.
We equip our yachts with solar panels and a large array of batteries (6-9 depending on the yacht systems installed), which we monitor with battery testers at close intervals during the summer period.
After every charter trip, on Friday afternoon, we inspect 100 points during the check-out of every yacht and restore anything found out of specs on the following day (Saturday).
On Saturdays, the yacht check-in is the final act in a series of actions for the preparation of a yacht for departure.It is done after,
a) a thorough inspection (and possible repair) of all the critical technical parameters (mechanical, electrical, electronic, hydraulic, plumbing, toilet, kitchen, cooking gas and other critical systems including the engine, the Bow-thruster, the anchor Windlass and naturally the condition and the functioning of the sails)
b) the thorough cleaning of all internal and external spaces of the yacht, the crockery and the cutlery in the galley, the disinfection of the toilets and the making of the beds
c) the detailed check of all inventory items in the galley, in the lockers in the salon and inside the external lockers
d) re-installation of various items in their original position after their use from the previous crew
The above procedure takes between 4 – 6 hours, depending on the size of the yacht, if repairs are not required
The check-in by nature acts as a check that the Charter operator has done a good job in preparing the yacht and as a preparation for the Skipper who can familiarize himself with the idiosyncrasies of the yacht and be properly prepared on how to use it before setting sail.
At SeaStar Sailing, we do not allow anyone to touch the engines (Yanmar, Volvo, etc) of our yachts, for any service operation, unless the person is a member of the personnel of an authorized service center of the engine manufacturer.
We also do not allow anyone (clients included) to perform any repair or modification on any system, without our authorization and subsequent verification and record keeping, by us.
Every year, we carry out a very detailed and extensive in-the-sea winter maintenance procedure, which exceeds 80 man-hours per yacht.
During the winter, almost all of our yachts are taken out of the water in order to inspect the submerged systems (engine pod, propeller, rope-cutter, bow-thruster, through-hulls, etc) and service them. We also clean the hull and treat it with new coats of hull paint.
All the above and many more details help us to maintain a very high quality level which contributes to the safety of each charter trip.
Under the proper mutual understanding, we can accept as bareboat skippers, properly licensed individuals who have never skippered before.
We have found that beginners can be very safe skippers, compared to experienced skippers who may choose to disrespect the conditions imposed by the natural elements and the rules governing the handling of a sea vessel, however big or small that might be.
Without any doubt, accumulated experience does play a very important role when evaluating the safety potential of any skipper. However, the attitude of each individual is very critical, too.
“S..t happens” is a favorite expression in the yachting industry. It is very true, but when a lot of it occurs in any single trip, then there must be a problem with either the attitude or the capabilities of the skipper.
However, we must admit that “attitude” is a very subjective parameter, especially when one takes under consideration the “free spirit” of most sailors. This is why, in an attempt to evaluate the safety potential of bareboat skippers who choose our yachts, we are looking into some parameters that could be described as “objective”.
Command of the English language is one of them. It is well known that during rescue operations all over the world, the language of communication between people in danger and their rescuers is either English or the local language of the rescue teams. This is why we are reluctant to accept any booking from a skipper who does not speak either English or Greek.
Owning a yacht is another parameter that (we believe) can objectively measure the involvement of an individual with the technical, maintenance and legal requirement aspects of a yacht. This involvement increases the knowledge and understanding of a yacht’s functioning, which greatly contributes to increased safety.
Sailing in heavy (above Force 7) weather conditions, can test any sailor’s limits. The frequent occurrence of such conditions due to the global climate change in recent years, poses a serious safety threat. “Meltemi” conditions are not happening only in July or August anymore. Such conditions can arise during any month of the year. Skipper experience in such conditions can make the difference and thus, this can be a very objective parameter to consider.
Greece has a limited number of marinas, where you can easily moor with mooring lines, buoys or other means not involving anchor dropping. The majority of moorings performed every day in the Greek seas, involve anchor dropping from the bows of a yacht and securing of its stern by two landlines (MED mooring).
When this action takes place in a busy port with a lot of boat traffic, under a strong wind blowing, aiming the stern of the yacht towards a very narrow space among two other yachts and over a sea space with dozens of other anchors and anchor chains already deployed, one can easily become overwhelmed and misjudge what should be the optimum action at any moment in time, during the maneuver.So, experience in MED mooring is another objective parameter for skipper safety evaluations.
The number of weeks spent in one’s life, as the skipper (not co-skipper, not crew member) of a yacht, with full responsibility for crew safety, can be another objective parameter in evaluating the safety profile of a skipper.
We must not forget that a skipper who returns with his yacht in tact, but with a crew member’s finger hurt by rope-winch action, cannot claim high safety standards.
Skippers with a “pleasure yachts” license, who have not received special training and practice relating to a sailing yacht, have their (“powerboat” in reality) license usually accepted by the authorities, for commanding a sailing yacht. Additionally, sailors with a “powerboat” license who will sign a solemn declaration towards the authorities that they are able to command a sailing yacht, will also have their license accepted by the authorities, for commanding a sailing yacht.
The safety factor can however be seriously compromised, if they actually try to sail a sailing yacht as they would sail a powerboat, under strong weather conditions…
We have experienced the panic of a crew, who abandoned their yacht in Serifos, because the engine stopped after sucking air from the one quarter full diesel tank that tilted at a very steep longitudinal direction under the extreme pitching of the boat, as subjected by its “powerboat” skipper who was trying to go against and over the waves…
The evaluation of one’s self, regarding his experience, can provide another objective evaluation parameter, if there is parallel information available regarding a skipper’s actual sailing history (i.e with 1 week skipper record, one cannot really and seriously consider himself “experienced”).
It is such parameters that we are examining in a document that we have drafted, that we call “sailing resumee” and we request from each bareboat skipper to submit, prior to our accepting a booking.
Each skipper prior to taking command of his SeaStar charter yacht is required to execute a functional check of 90 points on the yacht, which requires at least one full hour or as much time as the skipper wishes, who is actually encouraged to spend more time and include more points in his/her functional checks. A “take over” form is thus completed and finally signed by the skipper.
The complete check-in procedure (including inventory checks) lasts from 90 minutes at a minimum and up to four hours depending on the level of detail that the skipper would like to work at. It is time well-spent though, since a thorough check-in will:
1. Give the skipper the confidence that his yacht is “ship-shape” as it should be
2. Give the skipper the benefit to have a good idea of where everything is stored in the yacht prior to its being needed.
3. Give the skipper the benefit to have fast reflexes in difficult circumstances due to the above knowledge
4. Give the Charter operator staff the pleasure of knowing that they have done a good job.
5. Give the Charter operator staff an incentive to put the enormous effort required every Saturday to deliver immaculate yachts for people to enjoy
6. Create the proper required trust between client and charter operator
7. Prevent disputes, quarrels and misunderstandings between client and charter operator, if something goes wrong during the trip.
8. Prevent disputes, quarrels and misunderstandings between client and charter operator, when damage appears at check-out.
9. Save time (after all) from all people involved.
The trip plan definition usually consists of an itinerary drafted by the crew who would like to visit specific favorite locations.
It is more than usual that this simple approach is inappropriate for a safe trip, mainly due to the safety issues emanating from the fast changing weather conditions at the actual trip period.
However, other parameters must also be taken seriously under consideration, when designing the trip itinerary.
More than 90% of all sea accidents in Greece, happen in harbors. This is not only due to a skipper’s difficulty to MED-moor as described in The Skipper section, above. It is also due to dozens of other skippers, approaching each harbor, who have the same difficulty!
Please read the following dreadful scenario (which is quite frequent).
The crew of a yacht (let’s call them our friends) has done an excellent job at mooring perfectly well their yacht at a busy island harbor and they have decided to rent a car and take a tour of the inland villages of the island. It makes absolute sense and sounds like an excellent idea.
However, during their absence, the skipper of the yacht next to theirs decides to depart. As he pulls his anchor chain he discovers that his chain is under the chain of our friends’ yacht. So, after a few minutes, his anchor is lifting the chain of the neighbor (our friends’) and thus pulls, dislodges and drugs by a few meters the neighbor’s anchor (our friends’). He disentangles his anchor from the neighbor’s chain, drops it back in the water and sails happily towards his next destination.
In the mean time, the prevailing Force 3 gentle breeze, accelerates to a Force 5 fresh breeze and our friends’ yacht moves freely towards the quay. Its rudder moves from a depth of 2,5m to a depth of 1,5m and thus its lower end hits an underwater rock and breaks off.
In a few minutes, the island ferry arrives and creates a big pulsating wave within the harbor. Our friends’ yacht is now banging its stern, repeatedly with each wave, against the quay cement structure and occasionally on the yacht on its side, where a lady is sitting…
The yacht has just accumulated several thousand Euros worth of damage and having its seaworthiness been seriously compromised due to the significantly shorter rudder, it needs to be urgently taken out of the water for repairs. The lady on the neighboring yacht has bruised her foot, having been pushed by the sudden movement.
One can naturally wonder : “What did our friends do wrong ?”.
The answer is simple. They underestimated the local conditions, which are clearly different from the ones in their usual sailing area (organized marinas with mooring lines, assisted harbor movements, a harbor master in charge, e.t.c.). However, they will still be held responsible for all the damage, including a claim from the lady.
Despite the fact that some readers of the above lines may call it a fictitious exaggeration, we can assure them that this a real sequence of events that has repeated itself (more or less) in our own experience with clients, quite a few times (only one lady involved).
So, it becomes obvious that one’s selection of a harbor as a safe mooring space cannot rely only on its orientation relative to the wind or the holding of the harbor sea-bottom or other criteria of simple tourist interest (e.g. places of interest, etc).
Actually, no mooring space can be considered absolutely safe in Greece, if it is outside a private marina environment, which is the only safe place for leaving yachts unattended.
So it is not a very safe trip plan, if the crew (or at least one member of the crew) does not intend to stay aboard most of the daylight hours that a lot of moving around of vessels and general harbor activity takes place.
The trip legs must be also carefully chosen. A trip to the Cyclades with strong northerlies must be executed with trip legs following a clockwise direction, since the Western Cyclades receive the northerlies at a slightly lower strength and thus the return trip becomes easier.
Going leeward or windward of an island with a tall mountain on its surface under strong wind conditions, takes a lot of local experience before making this decision. Going leeward, in some cases, one may experience a stronger (than the prevailing) katabatic wind or even worse, be hit by leeward eddies from the opposite side, which due to their sudden and unexpected nature, present a real safety issue.
Sailing through the Cyclades can be a very challenging (but very exciting) experience. It is a complex of closely located islands, each one of substantial volume, with high mountains, a long coastline with coves (deep or shallow) and peninsulas, with alternating seafront in their material structure (steep rocks, long sandy beaches, underwater rocks or underwater valleys, etc).
The wind blowing from one side of this complex circulates among the islands in very unexpected ways, unless you are an expert in aerodynamics and turbulence, or a local insider.
The sea water motion is unexpected too, since it is not only influenced by the prevailing sea currents and the wind, but also by the multiple reflections of the waves against opposite looking coastlines of two islands, depending on the energy absorption capacity of the coastline according to its structure, as explained above! The end resultant wave motion can be surprisingly different from what would normally be expected, at various locations.
Underwater reefs are very rarely marked in Greece. A plethora of underwater reefs around an island presents a very serious navigational hazard for the curious and exploring sailor, who is not aware that GPS accuracy is not adequate enough, to depend on, for approaching with safety.
The Med Sea (being a closed sea space) is full of debris (plastic bags, wood logs, containers, ropes, bottles, polystyrene pieces, lost fishnets, etc) floating in the sea. This presents a serious threat to a sailing boat in many ways (opening a hole to the hull, breaking the rudder, deformation of the propeller, etc). A good skipper must always be vigilant and must also appoint one member of the crew to constantly watch the sea surface in front of the boat while travelling.
There are thousands of amateur fishermen aboard tiny fishing boats along the coastline during the night hours. Very frequently, they do not have a light on, to mark their position and are difficult to see until one is really very close. Sailing without operating and watching a radar screen onboard can be really dangerous during a dark night.
Professional and amateur fishermen lay their fishing nets at various locations (close or far from the shore), during various periods of the day, depending on the type of catch they aim to. They mark them with very small buoys that you can only see when you get really close.
If you get entangled in such a net, it will take you many hours to cut the boat free, if there is daylight and if the weather conditions allow you to dive.
The only way to avoid them is by watching the sea surface in front of you while travelling, to spot the small buoy!
Most of SeaStar yachts are equipped with very strong rope cutters close to their propellers, but they cannot be considered a substitute of responsible sea watching.
A holiday trip is very different from a sailing training trip, where crew members must rotate at various posts to gain experience and the instructor (who is usually the responsible skipper) can frequently be distracted from his skipper role, by trying to focus on his training job. For a training trip to be rated as safe, a requirement for a second experienced sailor aboard, just like any other sea trip, must exist.
Personal challenges or adventure trips should not be materialized by using a charter yacht that has not been specially prepared for the particular activity. For example, safe night sailing requires a radar, safe racing activity requires very strict rules regarding crew seating arrangements and crew movement, safe non-stop sailing requires special yacht and crew preparation, special sleeping arrangements and so on.
Under no circumstances should a charter yacht be used for such activities without giving proper notice to the owner and without checking for the existence of appropriate insurance covers.
All the above parameters (and more others) affect the trip safety and must be taken under consideration during the preparation and the execution of a trip plan.
In our “sailing resumee” document we include questions that relate to the character of each trip and thus we include some elements of the trip, in our safety evaluations for each booking proposed to us.