Your coins are still in your staking wallet, so they don’t go anywhere. If the validator ceases to operate, you just stop getting rewards as long as your SAFE is staked to it. To start earning rewards You just unstake them initiating a ‘cool-down’ period, after the cool-down period has ended you can delegate them to a different validator. (Cool-down periods take 1 Epoch)
No, there are no penalties or minimum timeframes for staking.
When staking you will not be able to access your SAFE immediately. The warmup currently takes up to ~2.5 days or 1 epoch. The ‘cool-down’ period is until the current epoch ends from the time of initiation.
A validator requires an outlay of money upfront. By paying out a portion of your share of the rewards, you are helping to keep the validator running and doing its job without taking on the costs and maintenance of running your own validator. It’s important to note that the validator fee comes out of the rewards only, NOT out of the coins you have delegated.
Let’s say a validator has 10,000 total SAFE staked and you have delegated 5,000 of it. This means you have a 50% share in this validator. The person running the validator sets the commission fee to 10%. Let’s imagine a validator received 200 SAFE in staking rewards. Since you have a 50% stake, you get a 50% share of the rewards (100 SAFE) minus the 10% commission (10 SAFE), so you end up with 90 SAFE. (200x.5x.90)
You can only actively participate in the voting process if you run a validator. If you’re delegating SAFE, you are helping to improve the validator’s voting power, but you don’t receive any of the block rewards if the validator is chosen to receive one (this is one of the perks of running a validator - Block rewards only make up a very small percentage of a validators income.