FIRST OFF, recognize you’re experiencing a high-risk trait or condition, such as forgetfulness, vision impairment, slowed reaction times, unsteadiness, and so on, and share that information with a spouse or boating buddy. Understand the severity of
the condition, possibly through a medical check-up, and carry out
specific changes needed to compensate. These might include new
boating habits, altering the boat, or repositioning gear. Along with
your spouse or friends, plan to monitor your condition to watch for
any progression or increased risk.
■ Always use notes and checklists – for shutting the boat down,
for starting her up, for all important procedures aboard, especially for operating infrequently used equipment.
■ Keep a whiteboard and markers nearby, perhaps mounted near
the helm station, to jot down numbers, waypoints, reminders,
Coast Guard reports, weather reports.
■ Always bring a mate along to be your ears in hard-to-hear situations, and someone who can operate your boat if need be.
■ Reduce long trips. Leave earlier. Arrive earlier. Don’t push it.
■ Add extra handholds so you can grab one for every step you
take on a pitching boat. (See our story on page 84 for details.)
■ Add safety lines, rails, or higher rails.
■ Add nonskid surfaces. (See our story on page 86.)
■ Add an electric windlass, one that can be operated remotely. Not
only does that eliminate the heavy lifting associated with anchoring, it also allows you to get the boat stopped and settled before
you go forward to cleat off the rode or put on a snubber.
■ Remove obstacles from passageways and decks. Add steps
where you have to change levels, like going from the cockpit
seat to the cockpit sole. If they might turn into shin busters, use
the foldaway type.
■ Keep a good pair of binoculars handy to check buoys and distant
■ Invest in high-quality prescription sunglasses with UV protection
and non-glare lenses.
■ Wear your life jacket.
■ Add a strong, permanently-mounted boarding ladder with nonskid rungs and good handholds.
■ If feeling off-balance is an issue for you, there are exercises you
can employ to improve your stability. Ask your doctor or physical therapist.
■ If you’re having trouble hearing your mate on the foredeck,
agree to a system of hand signals, buy small walkie-talkies,
or have someone at the helm, with better hearing, repeat
■ If your night vision isn’t what it used to be, splurge on a night-vision or thermal-vision scope for the helm station and use a red
light at the helm to preserve low-light adaptation.
■ Create easy-to-use tackles to help lift gear aboard. A three-to-
one tackle attached to a radar pole or dinghy davit can be used
to get the outboard up onto the rail or groceries on deck, and,
with a webbing strap attached to the end, even lend an assist to
someone boarding from the dinghy.
■ Older backs are prone to stiffness and soreness, especially if
forced to spend time on hard, lumpy surfaces. If you sleep aboard
your boat, invest in high-quality cushions at least six inches thick
or, better yet, a custom mattress for your berth. Consider upgrading cushions in your cockpit or salon to add additional padding
and, where possible, a bit of lumbar support. If you have a chair
that’s more than 10 years old in the cockpit, a replacement will
probably be welcome.
NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN
These and other suggestions above, are good ideas for most boaters, let alone older boaters — and they all made sense to Mark
Vance, who took a safe boating class for seniors (see page 56).
“It’s a good reminder that I need to move more surely, instead
of dancing on the top of the boat, as I used to,” said Vance, now
70. He got his first taste of sailing in 1978 when a friend took him
out off Los Angeles, returning in big swells to Marina del Rey. “I
remember standing with one hand on the mast with this primal feeling,” he grins. “I was hooked.” Vance now has a 27-foot English-built
Snapdragon sailboat, a twin-keel classic named Arwen.
Vance said patience was a theme of the senior boating class.
A relaxed frame of mind comes in handy when he sails on the
Indian River south of Jupiter, Florida. It’s a congested waterway,
which can be stressful in a sailboat. “You have to remind yourself
to be deliberate and remain calm. It’s easier to get flustered as
Vance has already made some concessions to age. Sailing sin-
glehanded, he used to unfurl a genoa, the large foresail, to capture
more wind. Now he sails with his smaller working jib, which is fast
enough, but doesn’t demand as much strength.
“At this point in my life, I’m more interested in comfort than
speed,” he said. How long does he intend to be in his sailboat?
“As long as I can walk,” he says.
To Dick Brilhart, patience also means looking at the big picture.
He and Barbara can do the trip north from Florida in three weeks,
but they now plan on up to five weeks, sticking to the ICW rather
than the open ocean. Brilhart, a retired dentist, acknowledges that
he tires more easily now, so to compensate, the couple sets off at
dawn and plans to be somewhere by mid-afternoon.
“At the end of an eight-hour day, I’m wiped out,” he says. “I used
to drop anchor, throw the dinghy in the water, and go ashore. Now
if we anchor, we just anchor. And we look for marinas, making it
easy to go ashore.” The Brilharts have also taken steps to keep their
senses sharp; they work out regularly at the gym to stay strong and
flexible. Both have had cataract surgery and Dick wears a hearing
aid. Brilhart offers some advice for seniors who want to stay in boating: “The single most important thing is to stay in shape, so you can
hop around the boat. Strength frequently means balance.” They say
they plan to stay on the water as long as possible. That could mean
a smaller boat, at some point. “Even now, Barbara and her friends
enjoy weekly outings in kayaks,” he says. “Boating is no more difficult than it used to be, but everything is slower.”
TIPS FOR KEEPING SAFE ABOARD, AS YOU AGE