Has sailing become more dangerous?

I started sailing when I was about 7. My first boat was an El Toro (which I still own) and as a youngster I sailed all sorts of dinghy’s. My college years saw me moving up to larger boats and longer races until I finally quit racing in the early 80′s. In my racing years I can remember two deaths. The first was off of Santa Cruz in a dinghy race and the second was in a Swiftsure race in the mid 70′s.

Reading the news today it seems that deaths in sailboat races are much more common. I have to ask why? In my era booze was flowing both on and off the boat. Now my friends that race don’t even carry booze on their boats (too much weight perhaps?). Unless I was sailing a dinghy my life jacket stayed below, safety harness- what was that, and items like EPIRB’s had not even been developed. Still we made it home safely though maybe not as quickly as today’s boats.

Not being involved with racing anymore it is difficult to understand what the problem is. Maybe the internet keeps us more in touch and that there really were more deaths years ago but it was a small community and even in those days, news traveled quickly. Maybe the boats were stronger years ago, I still see Cal 40′s on the water and I doubt some of the more recent racing boats will have such longevity. Or maybe we spent more time on the water in those days, racing almost every weekend for years on end. Whatever the change, it is not good. I feel for those who have lost loved ones and hope we can look back to see that lessons were learned and that disasters became less common.

Safety drills can be dangerous

Five crew members died when a lifeboat drill went amiss. CNN has an article which provides more information on this most recent tragedy.

YouTube has a dramatic video (where nobody is hurt) of just how dangerous this can be

It is not that we shouldn’t train but it is obvious that lifeboats with their complex lifting davits and great weight poise a special danger.

Along with those at CNN our thoughts are also with the families and friends of those lost in this tragedy. As was said on Hill Street Blues, “let’s be careful out there”.

Rescue in the Southern Ocean

A French sailor survived three days in his life raft after dismasting in the Southern Ocean south-west of Tasmania. Full details have not yet been published but local news has an interesting video interview with the Captain of the rescue ship. He could only see the life raft for 1/2 mile and without outside assistance from aircraft would have had extreme difficulty in finding the raft.

We do not know yet why a dismasting forced the sailor in to his life raft nor how he contacted search and rescue, if by SSB or EPIRB. What this rescue does show is that the system works even if you are in the far reaches of the globe.

Thanks Crowley- training pays off!

Over the years I have thanked Crowley Maritime for their business but now we have another reason to thank them. On January 15, 2013 one of their crews rescued a man out of the water in Tampa Bay. Their web site has the full story which shows how important training is. Many in the marine safety industry feel that training is more important than equipment and my experience supports that feeling.

The problem is often where to get trained. You can pay to attend classes or safety at sea seminars which is the easiest solution. The Red Cross and local fire departments often provide first aid courses and sometimes provide the opportunity to train with fire extinguishers. Yacht Clubs have seminars as do boat shows. Finally if you own a life raft ask if your service facility provides training, especially hands on with your own raft.

Here at Westpac we do offer training for those who are having their life rafts serviced. We start by sinking your boat (mentally at least), go through deploying the raft, boarding, life on board and finally rescue. This normally takes around two (2) hours and customers leave with a thorough understanding of how their life raft works. Sometimes we wander into the subjects of EPIRB’s, crew overboard recovery, fire extinguishers or ditch kits. The breadth is controlled by our customer and the amount of time they wish to spend.

IMO Guide for Cold Water Survival

IMO Logo

The International Maritime Organization, IMO, has just released a revised guide to cold water survival. You can download MSC.1/Circ.1185Rev.1 which is intended to be used by “seafarers” providing “information which will help you if you are unlucky enough to fall into cold water”. Put in plain English, this is something all of us should read and understand. I particularly like Section 9 which deals with the “apparently dead” although in a serious note this is the first time I have seen this subject handled in a succinct way.

The document is a 14 page PDF about 200kb in size.

Pirates beware!

Horn of Africa

It seems that the pirates off of the Somali coast will have a new navy to contend with. A British company, Typhon, is setting up a private navy to protect shipping off of the Horn of Africa.  One must hope that this action will help. Piracy is the scourge of the sea affecting not only commercial shipping but also pleasure boats. Two of our customers were murdered by Somali pirates in 2011 (see the map above courtesy of the NY Times). When I was in high school one of the owners of the company I worked for was also murdered by pirates, although this time in was on the east side of Panama.

Good luck to Typhon, I hope they are both successful and their employees stay safe.

Another rescue, but why?

Another rescue but why was it necessary? A US man was rescued after his tow line snapped. he had drifted for eight days on a disabled yacht off of Vietnam.

A couple of questions come to mind. What happened to the vessel that was towing him and how much sooner would he have been rescued if he had an EPIRB? Still this is a good example of why staying with a disabled boat is a better option than getting in to a life raft.

AMVER comes to the rescue

The Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue System, AMVER, came to the aid of another sailor on December 15, 2012. Quoting the AMVER web site: “Amver, sponsored by the United States Coast Guard, is a unique, computer-based, and voluntary global ship reporting system used worldwide by search and rescue authorities to arrange for assistance to persons in distress at sea.”

This is a great asset many are not aware of. AMVER helps when you are away from helicopter rescue since there always seem to be merchant vessels somewhere around. On December 4, 2012 the combination of an EPIRB and AMVER rescued another sailor in the Pacific.

At a time when many things seem to be going wrong, it is nice to find something that is working and saving lives.

More on the tour boat Ethan Allen

In 2005 the tour boat Ethan Allen overturned on Lake George in New York causing  20 people to lose their lives. This tragedy spurred the government into a new regulation mandating life saving equipment that keeps the victims out of the water.

As of January 1, 2015 life floats like the one shown will no longer be allowed. [12/14/2012: the 1/1/15 deadline has been postponed, read our post from December 14th]


There are still lawsuits pending and it seems that one claiming damages against government inspectors has just been ruled on. Reading the comment from the National Transportation Safety Board it makes one realize that the government is not actively out there ensuring that vessels are safe for their passengers and crew. Budgets are strained and people’s lives have suffered.

EPIRB’s once again work

A yacht that rolled between NZ and Tonga decided to activate their EPIRB due to injuries. Read the report, it gives some good advice plus insight into how long (or short) a rescue takes and what types of assets are deployed in a rescue situation.

Some quick thoughts from the article:

  • Don’t leave your boat until necessary. If it is afloat you are better off on-board than in a life raft.
  • Today, two days is a common time to get help to a stricken vessel. If you are in helicopter range that might be faster.
  • The combination of an EPIRB and life raft is necessary.

I hope all goes well for the couple, they seem to have done things correctly.