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Baja California's Sailing Safety Tips

Robert & Curtis Page MD

Mexico's prime cruising season is between November and June (once the hurricanes have stopped) and these are the favored times for sailing in Baja as well. Sailors do, however, warn of periodic strong winds from the north, northwest and east on Baja's Pacific Coast. Some note that the Sea of Cortés can be dangerous from November to March, with north winds from the U.S. up to 40 knots. They advise boaters not to cross the sea without checking weather conditions first. Brief storms known as chubascos also affect this area.

Sailors should be aware that the air and water in the Sea of Cortés are not tropical during winter. Mid-winter daytime temperatures average in the 70s, but can sometimes fall into the 40s at night along the coast. Cabo, however, with its mountain protection, tends to stay warm year round.

Skippers sailing in the Baja region should be comfortable with night sailing, heavy weather sailing, coastal and offshore navigation, anchoring, and initial sea fatigue. If not, they are advised to bring a mentor if making the trip first time from San Diego to Cabo, for example.

Before heading south of the border, skipper and crew should review the boat's emergency gear, systems, and engine controls. The "man overboard" drill should be practiced under realistic conditions. And beware making a few common mistakes: faulty anchoring, dinghy deficit, not knowing how to reef, over-stocking on provisions, and electrical shortages (limit consumption or expand capacity). Click here for more practical information on taking your boat to Mexico.

The most common boating injuries, wherever you sail, are abrasions and cuts. Therefore, make sure your tetanus immunization is up to date and keep a mild antiseptic wash and semi-permeable dressing in your first aid kit. Be sure everyone aboard has non-skid deck shoes.

As to head injuries and concussions, these are potentially serious, so know how to recognize symptoms and implement basic first aid. Hypothermia is next in incidence, occurring faster in water than on land. Its initial symptoms are mental confusion and drowsiness. Seasickness, a form of motion sickness, is the fifth most common ailment.

Be aware, too, that alcohol plays a prominent role in many boating accidents. One third of boating fatalities are alcohol related, while most boating deaths result from sailors falling out of a small open boat without wearing a life vest (or PFD).

Sailors are advised to have a float plan. Learn to prevent fires aboard and make sure your crew knows what to do in case of fire. Boating etiquette and marina manners are the same in Mexico as in the U.S., but additional courtesy and more formal dress are recommended in Mexico, especially when dealing with officials.

Published or Updated on: June 1, 2008 by Robert & Curtis Page MD © 2008
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