In Case of Emergency…

What to do if the unexpected happens

Of course, here’s hoping that none of us ever need to put any of this information to use! That being said, it never hurts to be prepared. These guidelines are for Courageous boats without engines, though many apply to the cruising boats as well. If you’re new to sailing, don’t be intimidated by this information! Remember, a Courageous safety boat is just a phone call or radio hail away.


  • Know the limits of your skills, and don’t go sailing if you’re not feeling confident.
  • If something goes wrong or you have concerns or questions, CALL OR RADIO COURAGEOUS! (617) 242-3821, or Channel 69 on the VHF.
  • If someone’s life is in danger, make a Mayday call to the Coast Guard on Channel 16, then notify Courageous. If you don’t have a radio, call Courageous and we’ll make the Mayday call.
  • Communication is key. Courageous has an Emergency Action Plan, but we can’t put it into effect if we don’t know an emergency has happened!
  • Always fill out the Boat Log completely (including phone numbers). Fill out a Float Plan if you’re going beyond the airport. If you change your plans, give us a call and let us know.
  • Put Courageous’s number into your phone, and make sure your phone (or a radio) is on, charged, and audible.
  • Answer your phone or respond to our VHF hail when we call you–we may be notifying you of a storm or other issue.
  • Use the international signal of distress (crossing and uncrossing both arms over your head) or sound signals (most boats have a whistle or horn) to attract attention if necessary.

A Quick Guide to Anchoring

In the inner harbor, you won’t be anchoring unless it’s an emergency (or you’re practicing anchoring). If the boat is disabled and unsailable for any reason and a rescue boat is not nearby, you can drop anchor (not in the channel if possible!) to prevent the boat from being blown into danger (traffic or the shore). In non-emergency situations, don’t anchor in a location where you’d be blown towards the shore if your anchor did not hold.

To anchor, re-check that the anchor line is attached to the mast and the line is untangled. Head into irons, wait until the boat stops, and lower (don’t throw) the anchor from the bow, running the line through the bow chock (if there is one) and cleating it off. Let the boat blow backward (help it by backing the main and sailing in reverse) to set the anchor. You’ll probably let out most of the line.

Towing Procedures

The safety boat might throw you a tow line (lead it through the bow chock and cleat it to the bow cleat), or ask you to throw them your bow line. If they’re towing a long line of boats or towing you for a long distance, they may ask you to tie the tow line in a bowline around your mast instead. Drop the sails and steer to follow the boat. Pay attention—if the powerboat stops, you’ll need to be ready to steer alongside them, so you don’t crash into their stern.

Weather Emergencies

Thunderstorms are dangerous not only because of lightning, but because of sudden, very strong winds. Check the weather on your own, check the Notice Board, and keep an eye out for cumulonimbus clouds (the dark, anvil-shaped clouds that indicate a coming storm).

If the forecast or Notice Board predicts the possibility of storms, check for restrictions (half-harbor, or be in by a certain time), and make sure that you have a handheld and cellphone that you can easily hear and answer, since Courageous might call with updates or instructions.
If you see a storm building, hear thunder, or see lightning, start sailing back right away and contact Courageous immediately to let them know your location and get instructions.
If you are caught in a storm before you make it back, head in towards shore and pick up any empty mooring ball (Piers Park or Boston Sailing Center, maybe) or tie up to a dock. If you cannot get to a mooring and the wind has built to dangerous levels, anchor the boat (not in the channel or in the path of the ferries). Drop your sails and sit out the storm. Do not touch the mast, shrouds, or anything metal. Obviously, contact Courageous if you haven’t already.

Vessel emergencies

You can prevent most things that could go wrong with your boat by checking over your equipment in advance! Before leaving the dock, check the ring dings (the split rings that hold pins into shackles) on the stays and shrouds, the gooseneck (where the boom attaches to the mast), the boom vang, and the mainsheet blocks. And, of course, make sure you’re aware of any hazards in the area where you’ll be sailing.

The US Sailing Basic Keelboat book has a good section on vessel emergencies, page 75.

Broken shroud/forestay/backstay

Immediately turn the boat so that the broken rigging is downwind (i.e., not supporting the mast against the pressure of the wind). Broken backstay–head into the wind. Broken forestay–head downwind. Broken shroud–tack if necessary, if it’s not already on the leeward side. Drop your sails right away if it’s safe (the boat won’t be blown ashore or into the channel, or there is a rescue boat nearby). Contact Courageous immediately for a rescue tow. If the forestay has broken, keep the jib up, so that the mast has some support. If you have a spinnaker halyard, you can use it as a replacement forestay; you can tie it to the bowline if it’s not long enough. Then lower the jib so it won’t rip. For the shrouds, jury rig

a replacement by attaching a halyard (spinnaker halyard, or take the jib halyard off the jib and use that) to the chain plate or turnbuckle. You can tie the main halyard to a line in the stern to approximate a backstay. However, this is just to support the mast while you’re being towed—you don’t want to sail with it!

Running aground

The inner harbor is clear of obstacles unless you get dangerously close to the shore, so there’s not much risk of running aground. Green Flag members are expected to be aware of the hazards of the outer harbor. Be careful near Lower Middle and Castle Island!

If your hull or keel hits the bottom or a rock, your immediate goal is to stop the boat, so let out both your main sheet and your jib sheet, and head up into the wind if possible. If the boat is stuck, drop your sails. Check from the inside to see if your hull is intact. If water is coming in to the boat, try to plug the leak (by stuffing a jacket into the hole, for example). If any part of the boat touches bottom–even just a tap for a second–notify Courageous right away and ask for instructions. We will come get you; please don’t risk damaging the boat further. Even if the boat isn’t stuck, you may be at risk of running aground again or hitting another rock. Do not leave the boat to try to push it off. Again, it’s vital to let Courageous know that you’ve run aground, so that we can pull the boat out of the water to check that the keel is intact.


It’s possible for the boat to heel so far over that a spreader touches the water. The weight of the keel should right the boat immediately, but help by easing the sheets and vang, getting crew weight up to windward, and heading up to depower, if you can.

Even better, prevent knockdowns! Here’s how:

  1. Don’t sail in conditions you can’t handle
  2. Reef. Reef early. On the dock, if you have any doubts at all.
  3. Ease the sheets. Always have the mainsheet uncleated in heavy wind, if possible. If not, skipper and crew should be holding the main and jib sheets taut, ready to uncleat and ease. Practice kicking the mainsheet out of the cleat and easing it, so that you can do it automatically.
  4. Ease the traveler in puffs.
  5. Tighten the backstay.
  6. Move jib cars aft. Won’t really do much in a R19, but it’s good knowledge.
  7. Decrease your sail area by taking down a sail. If you’re sailing upwind, drop your jib. If you’re sailing downwind (and will not need to sail upwind later at all), drop your main.


During a knockdown, some water will come over the side. If there’s not too much (less than 1 foot, including what’s under the floorboards) and you can still sail and steer, ease your sheets a little if necessary and pump or bail. If you’re singlehanding, you can heave to if there is room to drift to leeward safely. If there’s a lee shore (i.e., the shore is downwind of you) and heavy wind, you’re going to end up crashing into the shore sooner than you think.

Also, be aware of where your weight is—the water will rush in that direction, which might lead to even worse swamping or the boat pitchpoling forward. Notify Courageous immediately—we might be able to bring a bucket or battery operated pump out to you, or tow you in.

If there’s so much water in the boat that it’s disabled—unstable and unsailable—drop your sails and call Courageous. Anchor if possible (if you are out of the way of traffic–not in the channel). Be very aware of a lee shore, or any hazards to leeward of you that you might be blown into if not anchored. Keep the boat stable with your crew weight, and pump if possible.


It’s highly, highly unlikely that a Rhodes would sink. But just in case…make sure life jackets are on, and nobody is tangled in any lines. Pump, plug holes, and sail towards shore if possible. If you can, tie flotation (a fender or the throwable flotation) to a long line (the end of a halyard, or the anchorline, if you’re not already anchored and can cut the anchor free), so the boat can be found later. Don’t leave the boat. Obviously, if you think there’s a chance of sinking, notify Courageous and if sinking seems imminent, make a Mayday call to the Coast Guard.

Crew emergencies

In case of “minor” emergencies (broken arm, sprained ankle, severe seasickness), call or radio Courageous. A staff person will come to bring the person back by motorboat and arrange for medical care. If somebody’s life is in danger (severe allergic reaction, heart attack, stroke, crew overboard lost from sight), make a Mayday hail on Channel 16 to summon the Coast Guard and then call Courageous. If there’s no radio, call Courageous by phone, and we’ll radio for you.

Be aware of the symptoms of heat emergencies and hypothermia, which are covered in the Basic Keelboat book. Hypothermia symptoms: fumbling, grumbling (being weirdly angry), stumbling, mumbling.

VHF Usage

If you’re taking a radio, make sure you know how to change the channels, volume, and squelch. When you make a hail, delay speaking for a moment after depressing the call button (and remember to release the button immediately after speaking!!), and make sure that you aren’t interrupting someone else’s transmission. Calls should be short and boat-related–no personal conversations. Here are some examples of calls using correct etiquette:

Non-emergency hail to Courageous, Channel 69

Boat: Courageous Base, Courageous Base, this is Rhodes Number 21. Over.
[Officially, you repeat identification information 3 times.] Front Desk: This is Courageous Base. Over.
Boat: Courageous Base, Rhodes 21 requesting a tow in. We’re in the channel just inside the airport. [Location is the most important piece of information!] Our main halyard shackle broke and our mainsail is down. We’re not in danger, but we won’t make it back by sunset sailing upwind under jib only. Over.
Front Desk: Copy that, Rhodes 21. Ally’s Gift [that’s the name of the motorboat] is on its way out to you.
Boat: Copy that. Rhodes 21 standing by, 69. [say both digits, “six nine.”] Front Desk: Courageous Base standing by, 13, 16, 69.

Mayday hail, Channel 16

A Mayday hail indicates grave or imminent danger to life or property and will summon the Coast Guard. If Courageous cannot provide adequate assistance to stabilize the situation, make a Mayday hail.
Example Mayday situations: sinking or burning vessel, severe allergic reaction, heart attack, crew overboard lost from sight, vessel disabled and about to crash into rocks (in a way that will cause extreme damage or danger) or in front of an incoming tanker.

Boat: Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is Courageous Rhodes 21, Courageous Rhodes
21, Courageous Rhodes 21. Over. [repeat if no response] [Coast Guard response] Boat: This is Courageous Rhodes 21. We are located at [give precise location]. [Give a one sentence description of the emergency.] [The Coast Guard will then ask for information, including the number of people aboard.]