Port Owen Yacht Club adjoins the Port Owen Marina which must surely be one of the safest places in the country in which to keep one’s boat. Being some 4 km upriver from the mouth of the Berg River, there is no wave action in the marina and very little current to worry about. Boats are moored to walk-on finger jetties which are both safe and convenient.

Access to the marina is possible at all states of tide for boats drawing no more than 1.5 metres. Boats with deeper keels should however not attempt to enter the marina at the lowest tides but should wait at the holding jetty provided in the river for an adequate depth of water. Port Owen Yacht Club maintains a number of buoys in the river indicating the safe water passage.

Out of the river mouth and into St Helena Bay, one finds some of the safest cruising waters in South Africa in all but a North-Westerly gale. The prevailing summer wind is South Easterly and can be quite strong but, as it is offshore, the water remains relatively flat, giving some exhilarating sailing.

There are a few charming little bays around the Southern edge of St Helena Bay in which one can anchor for the night except in strong North-Westerlies. These include Slipper Bay, Sandy Point, Stompneus Bay, Brittania Bay and Paternoster.

Skippers venturing out to sea must comply with the Merchant Shipping (Small Vessel Safety) Regulations of 2002. This means that they must have a Day Skipper Certificate as a minimum, and their boats must have a Certificate of Fitness as issued by the South African Maritime Authority or one of their authorised agents. Port Owen Yacht Club has an approved Safety Officer who can assist with information and will carry out inspections of vessels. Contact details can be found elsewhere on the web-site.

The Berg River, being tidal, is considered to be the sea as far as the Saldanha-Sishen Railway Bridge for the purposes of administering the Small Vessel Safety Regulations. All vessels over 3 metres long must therefore comply with the Regulations even if they are just using the river. This includes canoes, dinghies and motor boats. Owners are required to prove that their vessels have adequate buoyancy in order to obtain a Certificate of Fitness, and must carry the required safety equipment, which includes flares.

Vessels using only the river must comply with Category ‘R’ of the regulations, whilst those who venture up to a mile offshore in the Bay must comply with Category ‘E’.

Other categories are:-

Category ‘D’ – up to 5 miles offshore

Category ‘C’ – up to 15 miles offshore

Category ‘B’ – up to 40 miles offshore

Category ‘A’ – more than 40 miles offshore

The amount and type of safety equipment required is determined by the Category and the size of the vessel.

All vessels must either be provided with built in buoyancy or must carry a life raft when proceeding to sea. The exception to this Regulation is that sailing vessels (as well as heavy fishing vessels over 7 metres long) may, instead of buoyancy or a life raft, carry one lifebuoy for every two persons aboard. Such vessels may only be operated in daylight hours.

Those skippers who enjoy anchoring out overnight in one of the bays mentioned above should be aware that a boat at anchor is technically at sea, since the Regulations state that a vessel is at sea when it is not either securely ashore or moored in a safe berth.

All vessels venturing more than 1 mile offshore must carry either a VHF radio or a 29MHz radio. The owner of the vessel so equipped must be in possession of a current Ship’s Station Licence as well as a Maritime Radio Operator’s Certificate.

When leaving port, it is a requirement of the Regulations that one leaves with a responsible person details of the vessel, names of occupants and place and time of departure and arrival. The responsible person could be a relative or friend, the person in charge of the harbour or marina, an authorised agency (Port Owen Yacht Club for example) or a police officer.

There is a legal obligation on the skipper to notify that person of his safe arrival back ashore. There is also a legal obligation on the responsible person to report any suspicion he may have that a vessel has had a mishap to the nearest Port Authority or Police Station.

Those venturing into the bay or further afield must carry up-to-date charts of the area and have aboard a compass with which bearings can be taken. Although not required by the regulations, one should also carry a GPS programmed with suitable waypoints by which one can find one’s way back into the river should the fog for which this area is notorious come rolling in. A bright sunny day can turn into a pea-souper in a matter of 15 or 20 minutes and more than one sailor has found himself in difficulties because of it.

But not all is doom & gloom. Skippers who have a healthy respect for the sea and prepare themselves and their vessels properly will find much enjoyment in our sailing waters. As they say, ‘Prepare for the worst and expect the best!’