Managing safety on the water

Advice about developing and maintaining safety management systems for on the water activity with the Sailability programme

If people are to lead active lives through a regular habit of sailing, they need to:

  1. Feel welcome and have fun
  2. Feel safe and able to ask questions or raise concerns
  3. Be able to take part because their needs are being met

We can’t look at these in isolation, they are dependent on each other.

These resources can help affiliated organisations reflect on how you can develop and maintain safety management systems so that activity on the water can be safe, fun and open. 

Each section has:

  • general advice
  • a series of questions or prompts
  • some useful resources and tools you can use

The action plan can be used alongside the resources and is there for you to capture the things you do well, opportunities for improvement and how you are going to continuously improve your approach to safety.

The resources do not prescribe what you must do, but provide a framework for you to think about safety systems and suggest what could be considered.

There is a lot to think through around safety on the water - so there is a lot of content here. Some tips: 

  • Use the model to prioritise areas you want to look at first
  • The navigation at the bottom of each section gives you the chance to decide where to go next 
  • You can start at the first section of structure and management (scope and responsibilities are defined) and work your way around, but equally you can start where you think you need to focus on 

If you feel you need further support, we are offering a critical friend service (currently being piloted) - an advisor who can visit, observe what you do and facilitate you to develop an action plan around your safety systems.



A systematic approach

Safety systems will have at their heart:

Structure and management

A framework gives a system structure and allows you to manage safety within that framework - you create structure when:

Culture and promotion

It is people that will determine what actually happens on a day to day basis, the priority safety is given and the extent procedures are followed. A safety system means


People want assurance that getting involved in your organisation is safe, to see things done safely and to realise that learning leads to changes and improvements.

Questions to ask

  1. Has your organisation defined a system to manage safety on the water?
  2. Has the system been explained to everyone involved and do they realise the part they play in ensuring safe activity on the water?
Safety management system
Attitudes and behaviours

Safety culture is critical to ensuring safe activity on the water. It is difficult and time consuming to get right, but you know it when you see it.


Every organisation is different and so has different requirements for documentation. It is easy to say documents should be functional, concise, and shared – but harder to achieve

Scope and responsibilities defined

The scope of a safety management system is defined by the type of organisation you are and the duty of care that results, your organisation’s policy for safety on the water, and other policies that impact on what you do and how you do it

Hazards and risks assessed

To manage risk you need to carry out risk assessments – identifying the hazards, assessing the risk to the people involved and identifying ways to control the risk as far as is reasonably practicable.

Controls and procedures detailed

A risk assessment identifies the controls needed to manage risk to the people involved arising from a series of hazards. The controls are often then detailed further into policies, procedures, and rules to be followed.

Competent people given responsibility and authority

Delivery of activity by experienced, competent people with the right attitudes, whose suitability for the role has been considered

People know what to do and how to do it

Procedures, guides, manuals, observing others, induction, briefings, training opportunities and practice

People accept the risks and choose to take part

Sailing has some inherent risks and you have a duty of care to everyone involved. Keeping people safe means they feel able to take part, and are aware of the risks involved.

The right equipment used properly

Sailing is, in part, an equipment-based activity, no more so than for disabled people. Equipment increases independence and control but does need to be used properly. A lack of access creates barriers, disables people and makes activity less safe. So consider the facilities and equipment you use to get people on the water.

Proactive and reactive learning - changes identified

Reassure participants that you manage on the water activity safely by taking time to observe and monitor your safety arrangements, learning as you go and implementing improvements when needed.

Action plan

Identify good practice, opportunities for improvement and create an action plan to develop and maintain your safety systems

Critical friend service

Book an advisor who can help you identify what you do well, opportunities for improvement and develop an action plan to continuously improve your safety systems

Critical friend service
fun - I feel welcome and have fun
safe - I feel safe and can raise my concerns
open - I am able to take part
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