Managing safety on the water

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

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 each step 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. 

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.

Questions to ask

Has your organisation defined a system to manage safety on the water?

Has the system been explained to everyone involved and do they realise the part they play in ensuring safe activity on the water?

A systematic approach

Safety systems will have at their heart:

a fleet of sailing dinghies moored next to a temporary dock with a crowd of club members

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. 

member of club filling in documentation with pen and paper

Functional, concise documents

Every organisation is different and so has different requirements for documentation. Documents should be functional, concise, and shared.

Structure and management

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

two volunteers talking about sailing

Scope and responsibilities

The scope of a safety management system is defined by the type of organisation you are and the duty of care that results.

wide shot of group of people in motor boat

Hazards and risks

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.

sailing instructor sitting in a motorboat talking to child in a sailing dinghy

Controls and procedures

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.

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:

sailor assembling sail on dinghy

Competent people are given responsibility

Delivery of activity by experienced, competent, suitable people.

two women on a motor boat using the navigation

People know what to do and
how to do it

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

volunteer talking to two sailor in a sailing dinghy on a lake

People accept the risk

Keeping people safe means they feel able to take part, and are aware of the risks involved.


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:

young man fixing dinghy boat using electric drill

Using the right equipment

Sailing is, in part, an equipment-based activity. Equipment increases independence and control but does need to be used properly.

three sailor talking on the shore next to some boats

Proactive and reactive learning

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