The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Suddenly Alone

Stephen and Nancy Carlman

April 11th, 2024
sailboat at sea immersed in fog

“Suddenly Alone” was the title of a webinar hosted by the Commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club, Simon Curtin, on December 21, 2023. That title refers to a book published by the Cruising Club of America and available to members of the Ocean Cruising Club. The full title of the book is Suddenly Alone: Safety for Cruising Couples.

The webinar featured cruisers Derrick Thornington, Veronica Lysaught, and Dick Stevenson, who made suggestions for how to prepare for the possibility that one member of the couple might fall overboard, be injured on board, or suffer a medical emergency. Unfortunately, the first reaction to a serious problem is fear.


Fear when something happens, like a broken line, failure of an autopilot, or a engine stop, leads to Fight, Flight, or Freeze. The best thing to do is breathe – four counts in, six counts out – to let your brain catch up with your body so you can decide what to do.

One good technique, if the boat is not in imminent danger, is to heave-to and brew a cup of tea. The boat will take care of itself while you decide what to do.

An audience poll showed that of the 70 computers tuned in, 68% of the attendees were double-handers. Of those, only 5% of the mates felt competent to cope with an engine problem. I was not able to note the percentages of mates who could handle other areas of cruising, like navigation, provisioning, anchoring, picking up a mooring, tying to a dock, or use of the radio. However, these percentages call for training, so that mates are not incapacitated by fear when something happens.

Crew Resource Management

In preparation, techniques related to commercial Crew Resource Management training apply to double-handed recreational sailboats.
Decision Making, Team Management, and Situational Awareness are all governed by the necessary importance of communication. Skippers may not be the best trainers, and people who organize safety training for cruising couples suggest that husbands and wives train in separate groups.

Reflections on the Seminar

The comments about communication, preparation for manoeuvres, and training of crew all relate to the recent BCA Vancouver member panel discussion on staying together as a couple while cruising. I particularly like the very English idea of brewing a cup of tea while you stop to think about and decide what to do in a crisis.


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