Learning From Europe

Lead Line — September 2004
By Richard Thiel

Learning From Europe
Americans still haven’t embraced one admirable European ethic: safety equipment.
 Related Resources

• Lead Line Index

As I write this from Pesaro, Italy, at the end of a tour of European yards, I admit to feeling an affinity for the old continent. Despite our current government’s disillusion with “old Europe,” there’s much to admire here. Great coffee is universal on the continent, and notwithstanding the disconcerting spread of American franchises, the food is generally prepared and presented with more care—except for maybe in England. I also like the fact that walking is frequently done for pleasure over here, not as a last resort, and that when I rent a car I get something far more rewarding to drive than a Cavalier or Alero.

Obviously Europe is not perfect. Its airlines may actually be worse than ours, and the place is crowded—just look at the hotel rooms and marinas. And European behavior in lines is nothing short of brutish.

But when it comes to boats, I’d say it’s something of a draw: Europe and America have learned a lot from each other. America, the land of large, taught Europeans that boats should be roomy, even for crew. We also proved the superiority of high-capacity air conditioning, big refrigerators, thick mattresses, and the Glendinning Cablemaster. Europeans taught us the value of finely wrought, flawlessly lacquered wood, sensuous exterior styling, and bow thrusters.

But Americans still haven’t learned to embrace one admirable European ethic: the importance of safety equipment. I refer not to PFDs and automatic bilge pumps, but to the near-universal presence on any sizable European boat of at least one liferaft and one manual bilge pump. This may stem partly from governmental regulations and the fact that European craft must contend with generally less hospitable waters than we do. Yet marine mishaps are universal, and the failure of American builders to fit such relatively inexpensive equipment as standard is curious. Moreover, most European builders design their boats around such equipment; there’s nearly always a dedicated liferaft compartment on the flying bridge and/or in the cockpit, and the manual bilge pump (or pumps) is typically in the cockpit, where it’s readily accessible in an emergency—usually near the battery and fuel cut-offs, which are also typically absent on U.S. boats.

And while I’m on a soapbox, I’d also like to lobby for standard EPIRBs, smoke detectors, and CO detectors, and for separate bridge batteries for VHFs (all of which should now come with DSC) on boats over 40 feet, so that in the event of a sinking, a captain can continue to broadcast distress calls until the very last minute. (EPIRBs are a common aftermarket item on European vessels, but dedicated bridge batteries and DSC are not, in my experience.)

Sad to say, safety equipment will probably never be as appealing to either American or European owners as sexy styling, mirror-finished wood, and big ‘fridges. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sell. Boats that come equipped with more than just basic safety gear feel safer and seem to be more seaworthy, and that’s a selling advantage on both sides of the Atlantic.

This article originally appeared in the August 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.